Dealing with the holidays after losing a loved one
How to Navigate the Holidays After Losing Loved Ones
The holidays can be a powerful reminder of how much you are missing your loved ones, especially if this is the first year you have spent without them. Seeing other people continuing to enjoy the holidays with their loved ones can also be a powerful reminder that you are missing your loved ones. It's important to acknowledge these feelings and seek support from friends, family, and your community. Honor your loved ones during this time by seeing the holidays as a time of remembrance. Make sure to find healthy ways to navigate this time, and focus on your own self-care.
Spend time with supportive friends and family.When you're feeling sad, stressed, or lonely, it's important to have friends and family to help you feel better. While not all people you interact with at home, work, or in your daily life may be a good source of support, make sure to spend more time with those who have been loving, supportive, and reassuring for you.
- Consider reaching out to others who have lost loved ones. Ask them to hang out, go to lunch, or have dinner together.
- Don't feel obligated to go to large social or family gatherings that may feel upsetting or unsupportive of your needs. Focus more on time with those who make you feel loved. However, keep in mind that it is important to avoid isolating yourself. While it is okay to decline an invitation to a party if you are really not feeling up to it, try to engage with other people as much as possible. Grief can make you more susceptible to isolative behaviors, which may have a negative effect on your mental health.
- Consider calling a friend or relative who you haven't seen in a while, or who lives out of town. Reconnect with them, and strengthen your support system.
Seek emotional support from a trusted friend or family member.Talk with others about what you're feeling. Open up to others about your concerns, your worries, and your sadness. While you may not want to open up to everyone, find some trusted friends or family who make you feel loved and safe.
- Have a willingness to be emotionally vulnerable with those you feel closest to. It can be cathartic to open up to others. Try sharing photos of you with your loved one and tell the stories about what was happening when the photos were taken.
- Find those who make you feel safe and supported when you talk about grief and loss.
- For example, consider saying something like, "It's been a tough time for me this holiday. I keep remembering that I won't be sharing it with my sister anymore."
Connect with your local community.Feeling connected to the people in your community may help you feel less sad, lonely, or isolated during the holidays. Reach out to people that you may not normally see or talk with, and connect with them. Consider finding places that are particularly attuned to supporting people through grief and loss. Consider these people and places:
- An older neighbor, possibly one who is isolated or has limited family support. They may have experienced similar losses in their life.
- A place of worship such as a church. Many churches support those who are going through difficult times. They may even have support groups for grief and loss available. Check with your local Hospice organization to find out if they have grief and bereavement support groups.
- Community centers and non-profits. They may need volunteers. They may also have special holiday programs that help those feeling stressed. You might consider volunteering or donating to one of these programs. If you are donating, then you could put the gift in your loved one’s name.
Delegate holiday-related chores.Be open to letting others know what you need. Don't feel obligated to take on every task yourself. Be willing to delegate chores and activities that need to be done around the holidays.
- Don't be shy about asking for what you need from others. Never feel like a burden. Many people want to help but often feel like they don't know how.
- For example, consider saying, "Could you bring or make a dish for the Christmas dinner this year? That would really help."
- Delegate chores that are appropriate for different age groups and personalities. For example, see if your younger, stronger relatives can help with yard work, while your friends that love to cook can make an extra few dishes for a small dinner gathering.
Honoring Your Loved Ones
Externalize your feelings of grief and loss in healthy ways.Honoring your loved ones around the holidays can be important for you to find peace. Consider ways to make the loss feel less internal. Use these ways to externalize the loss and remember your loved ones:
Tweak your traditions.If past traditions are simply a heartbreaking reminder of loved ones that have passed, know that you can create new traditions. Consider tweaking or starting new traditions that help you focus on the present. You can still find ways to integrate your loved ones into the gathering, but in a different way.
- For example, let's say that it's been a tradition to have your father carve a turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas. You may feel like no one can do as good a job as he could. Consider possibly having another relative take the place, but offer a prayer or remembrance in your father's honor before the carving.
- See traditions as constantly evolving rather than static. Get the younger generations of your family involved so that they can help keep traditions alive, even if they are altered over time.
- Try spending some of your time around the holidays creating a family scrapbook with pictures of your loved ones as well as other members of your family who are still living.
- Prepare one or more of your loved one’s favorite holiday dishes and serve it to some friends and/or family.
- Visit your loved one’s burial site and leave a special holiday wreath. You could also write a special letter to them and read it at the burial site.
Focus on being thankful.Remember that there is always something to be thankful for, even if it's the smallest of things. Being thankful can be about remembering your loved ones, past and present. But it can also be about knowing that there can be positive things even in most difficult of times.
Taking Care of Yourself
Allow yourself time to feel sad.Be gentle and kind to yourself. If you feel like you need to cry, take time to go ahead and cry. Avoid bottling up your feelings and pretending they don't exist. You will breathe easier and sleep better when you acknowledge your sadness.
- Don't overwork yourself if you're feeling sad. Focus your energy on finding peace rather than more stress related to your loss.
- Know it's okay to have a bad day or even a few bad days. But when it's lingering for more than two weeks, and you continue to feel very depressed, seek professional advice. A healthcare provider or counselor may be able to help you feel less depressed or grief-stricken.
Remember your strengths in times of grief.Think about ways that you have overcome past grief, loss, or challenges in life. Maybe there are strategies that have worked well, and others not so much. Focus on the ones that have been healthy and helpful for you.
- Write down three strengths in yourself. Write a little about each one and an example of how you used this strength in the past.
- Consider saying words of self-affirmation that help to remind you of the good things in you. For example, say to yourself, "I am blessed for all the things I have and all the things I am able to do" or "I am hopeful. I am strong. I am resilient."
Pamper yourself around the holidays.While you may feel overwhelmed around the holidays, it's important to take time to treat yourself with love and care. Make sure to set aside time that's just for you, and helps to make you feel special. While some activities could involve your friends or family, most of the ones listed below are just about taking care of you.
- Get a massage. Or a manicure and pedicure.
- Take a hot bath or shower.
- Go shopping for some new clothes or items that make you feel special.
- Try some new things and explore new places. Go to a local bakery and try some new, delicious treats. Visit a local museum or art gallery that you've never been to before.
Avoid relying on alcohol, drugs, or other medications to cope.These substances may seem helpful at first, but can often make you feel down or possibly more depressed. Avoid mixing medications and alcohol together. If you feel like you rely on alcohol or other substances to cope with your feelings, seek help and professional advice.
Video: Surviving the Holidays After You've Lost a Loved One
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