Grief and Holiday Survival

Story by Melody Crotts

The holidays are approaching! The holidays are approaching! These words bring both joy and terror to the heart. In a perfect world, during the holidays, we would build wonderful memories, always smile and laugh, reunite with family and friends, have enough money to make everyone’s wishes come true, and eat all we want without gaining a pound.  Sadly, we do not live in a perfect world. The holidays do bring the above wonderful things to people. However, all of this wonderful can bring sadness, overspending, weight gain, etc. If someone has lost a loved one to death, divorce, or a breakup, the holidays can become unbearable. There are so many scents, music, expectations, traditions, and myths at this time of the year that contribute to making the “Firsts” so difficult.   

As a social worker, I work with many bereaved people to help them make it through the days and months after the death of their loved one.  I firmly believe that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate that first Thanksgiving, that first Christmas, that first Kwanzaa, that first Hanukkah after the death or other type of loss of a loved one. I encourage people to take care of themselves especially during the “Firsts.”  I encourage people to focus on just this year’s holiday and do what feels right to make it through. When the next year’s Holidays come, then would be the time to reevaluate exactly what feels right to do.

This year evaluate what you do or don’t want to do. Try not to bend to the expectations of others.  Do you want to have a large Christmas tree with all the trimmings? Or is it just too much effort and/or brings too many memories that are just too hard to deal with at this time? Maybe decorate a small tree with a few ornaments or maybe having no tree at all would suffice.  There are normally many gatherings at this time of the year. Do not be afraid to turn down a gathering if you just do not feel like attending. Or if you decide to go, take your own vehicle. That way you can decide when you want to leave.

Some people pick a special ornament to honor their deceased loved one. Another idea would be to hang a stocking for your deceased loved one. Then family and friends can write notes of memories about your loved one. This may make a new tradition to read the memories and reminisce, laugh and cry.   

Above all, remember to be gentle with yourself. There is nothing wrong with shedding tears and it can be cathartic to let them out. Find someone safe to talk about your feelings and how the Holidays are affecting you. This may not be a family member or a close friend. For some, a professional makes it easier to “let go” and express all that you are feeling.