Many families will feel the full effects of their loss for the first time during the holidays. They are having their first Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, etc. without a loved one — their mom or dad, husband or wife, brother or sister, friend, etc. When the holiday season — traditionally a time of togetherness and family — comes this year, the grief they already feel can become unimaginably more difficult.
We’ve talked about how grief can’t easily be defined or categorized. It definitely doesn’t come in “stages,” and with holiday grief, no one person will react the same. Some might try to run away from the holiday celebrations completely while others will pretend like nothing’s changed. That’s no way to cope with holiday grief, so here are some suggestions:
Trust That Grief Is Part of Healing
It’s important for families to understand that grief is normal and that it can surge during the holidays — even years after a loss. And that’s ok. Grief shows that a loved one might be gone, but never forgotten. It’s important to accept the emotions, not avoid them.
Don’t Cancel the Holidays
“What’s the point?” That’s the question many ask as the holidays approach because the smell of a certain candle or the sound of a certain song can trigger reminders and emotions of loss. They think that by avoiding the holidays altogether they can avoid grief.
While certain events or parties are okay to skip out on, you shouldn’t isolate yourself from friends and family completely. Being together brings about a sense of community and comfort, and it’s likely that other members of the family are grieving too. Coming together can be an opportunity to reminiscence, share stories, and enjoy each other’s company while you grieve together. (Your funeral home can also help by putting on a holiday remembrance program for families!)
Find a Way to Honor Memories
Families can benefit by finding a special way to honor a loved one over the holidays. A simple gesture can go a long way — whether it’s lighting a memorial candle, cooking their favorite meal for a holiday dinner, or hanging a special ornament on the tree each year — a simple gesture is a way to keep their memory around each holiday.
Create New Holiday Traditions
Grief isn’t about moving on or getting over a loss, it’s about adjusting to a new phase of life. And that means finding new traditions or building on old ones. That could mean spending the holidays at someone else’s home this year, leaving an extra chair out at dinner, or giving a special holiday toast.
The holidays also are a time for giving back. For a grieving family, doing so can help ease their pain and help lift their spirit. It’s also another way to honor their loved one. Volunteering at a soup kitchen, donating gifts to families in need, or donating to a charity are great ways to offer something good this holiday season.
Activities for Children
For children, the holidays can not only be a difficult time but a confusing time as well. Their grief might not be easily recognizable, but it’s still important that they get the support they need.
Encourage them to express themselves through activities like:
- Making a holiday card for the deceased.
- Going through old photo albums of past holidays.
- Creating a memorial ornament for their loved one.
For more ideas on how to help children cope with holiday grief, click here.