The holidays can be the most stressful time of the year for those who have recently lost loved ones. Being around friends and family only reminds us of that someone who is missing. My sister died on New Year’s Eve 15 years ago. Now, New Year’s Eve will never be the same for me. I cherish her memory with a new tradition for the holiday I started. I place an ornament on my Christmas tree in honor of her memory. I play her favorite Christmas carols, and burn her favorite scented candle.
No one can offer you a way around it – parts of the holidays are inevitably going to be hard. However, by thinking about the elements of your holiday celebrations that will be the hardest for you, you will minimize stress and lessen the likelihood that you will be caught off guard by difficult situations.
Completing the plan with those you will be spending the holidays with will open the lines of communication about everyone’s worries and anxieties, and it will allow for discussion about how you can support one another.
Practical Plan for Dealing with the Holidays After a Loss:
- Identify which individuals you will be spending the holidays with. Who will be present for events, traditions, and celebrations? Make a list of the individuals you may want to plan with. Often times, these individuals will be dealing with the same loss. If you will be spending the holidays alone or with people far removed from your loss, grab a journal or a notebook and complete the plan on your own.
- If you decide to involve family and friends in making a plan, call a family meeting. Plan the meeting date early enough so people can think, process, and plan. Try to have everyone present. If individuals can’t make it, you may be able to have them on speakerphone or Skype. You could also start a Facebook group, private blog, or e-mail chain for group conversations and updates. Don’t overlook the children. Even the youngest family members need to have a chance to express feelings and concerns. It’s also good for children to feel heard by adult family members.
- Decide what to do about tradition. Identify the rituals and traditions that will be the hardest. Allow each member of the group to discuss what will be hardest about these identified moments. Brainstorm ways to make these elements of the holidays easier. Also, discuss ways you can support one another during these times. In the end, you may decide to keep the event or tradition the same, change it, or skip it until next year.
- Discuss roles and responsibilities. Your loved one may have held several roles and responsibilities during the holiday season. Take a little time to make sure there aren’t any roles, big or small, that will need to be filled or changed (i.e. Who will plan the holiday meal, who will get the tree this year? Who will plan the holiday gift budget?) Some people may not feel comfortable stepping into their deceased loved one’s shoes to fill these roles. So, respect their feelings, and don’t push too hard. Make sure the roles and responsibilities don’t fall too heavily on one person.
- Finalize your plan: You may need some time to think about the plan. So, schedule follow-up time to finalize plans, if needed. Brainstorm or discuss support needs you think you will have (i.e. I may need someone to help me decorate the tree) and discuss how you can offer support to others (i.e. I will help you buy the grandchildren gifts this year). Let others know the things you just can’t muster up the energy to do this year, like shop for gifts or attend holiday parties. Small things can take a lot of energy when you are grieving, so give each other permission to opt-out of things. Make a plan to follow up with those who aren’t present.
- If you haven’t already, take time to think about you, and how you will take care of yourself during the holidays. Plan for how you will cope when things get tough. Will you go to a support group, call a friend, go to church, exercise, journal, etc.? Give yourself permission to cry, even in public. Don’t feel bad when you find yourself sobbing in the middle of the store because you saw a gift they would have liked, or their favorite song came on over the loudspeaker. Set aside time for self-care. Preventatively schedule an hour here and there for “mental health” time.
- Find ways to incorporate your loved one in the holidays. This is the best way to feel close to your loved one and fill his/her absence. You may want to find at least one or two ways to incorporate your loved one in each tradition and event that you identified as potentially being difficult.