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Grief and the Holidays

The holiday season is here. This can be a challenging and heartbreaking time for those who are grieving. When you’ve lost a loved one, the holidays don’t feel like the “most wonderful time of the year.” Instead, it’s a time when your loved one’s absence is even more obvious and painful, and previous holiday memories inevitably come flooding back. I recently held a webinar with another grief author (Patti Ashley) with suggestions on handling the holidays while grieving.

One suggestion is to set boundaries. Don’t feel you have to do everything you did previously—send Christmas cards (or even open the ones you receive), host meals, cook for meals, shop for presents, attend events, etc. I realize friends and family may expect you to do these things, but I encourage you to do what works for you. Along the same lines, plan ahead if you decide to attend events. For example, drive yourself so you can leave early if you want. I went to a Christmas party a few weeks after my husband died. I walked in and walked right back out. By driving myself, I could do that. Or if you drive with someone else, let him/her know you may need to leave early.

Another suggestion is to give to others. I realize this can be hard to do when grieving. But, I believe being charitable with your time or money can help a little. The first Christmas after my husband died, I was practically catatonic, but I remember focusing on finding a Barbie doll to donate. I loved Barbie as a child; I decided that even though I was suffering, that was no excuse for a little girl not to receive a Barbie on Christmas morning. That first Christmas I also volunteered to wrap Christmas presents and assemble baskets for the elderly who didn’t have families and might not otherwise receive a gift or food.

For one Thanksgiving, I invited a widowed, homeless man to join us for dinner. I’d met him selling the local paper for the homeless. I think that Thanksgiving was the first one that I'd enjoyed since my husband’s death. This man was gentle and grateful, and he gave me another focus. Additionally, he understood widowhood, so we bonded. I, therefore, felt good about that meal even though my husband wasn’t there. (Plus, I got to introduce someone to yummy vegan food and watch his delight as he discovered vegan Thanksgiving!) Along the same lines as giving to others, you could donate to a charity—perhaps your loved one’s favorite charity.

Yet another suggestion for managing the holidays while grieving includes honoring and incorporating your loved ones into your holidays. For example, I set a place for my husband at my family’s Christmas Eve dinner. I position a photo of him on the plate. My husband’s Green Bay Packers teddy bear sits in his chair. Once, I set a votive candle at each person’s place to honor my husband, and I asked everyone to share their favorite memory of him.

My first Christmas without him, the thought of decorations seemed absurd. But, I decided to get a small tree and decorate it with his favorite ornaments. I called it the “Reg tree,” and I loved that tree. Similarly, my mom purchased a Charlie Brown tree. My husband loved A Charlie Brown Christmas, and each Christmas Eve he gave my mom a new ornament. That first Christmas without him, she got a Charlie Brown tree—scrawny, small, slightly pathetic, and with a wooden stand—in his honor. She decorated it only with the ornaments he had given her. I loved that tree! It felt okay to have Christmas trees because we incorporated my husband into the holidays.

How about you? Can you incorporate your loved ones into your holidays? No, it’s not the same as having them there. But it’s a suggestion to help you get through the holidays.

I’ll have more suggestions soon. Peace and hugs to all of you.

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