Welcome back to part 2 of my series on grieving and the holidays. In part 1, I suggested setting boundaries, planning ahead, giving to others, and honoring and incorporating your loved one into the holidays. Today’s suggestions include keeping rituals if they serve you, trying something different, taking comfort from animals, being ok if you want to celebrate, having compassion for yourself, and asking for support.
Keep rituals if they serve you: I like to stay connected to my husband during the holidays, so even though I haven’t maintained all our previous rituals, I’ve maintained many. For example, he loved A Charlie Brown Christmas, and we watched it every year. I’ve continued to watch the show each year. Similarly, every year we purchased our Christmas tree from the local Optimist club. I’ve continued to get my tree from this same organization each year. When we were newly dating, he purchased a big Santa for the front porch. I remember how happy I felt when I first saw it. I still place it on our porch every year. In fact, I’ve kept most of our decorating traditions. I encourage you to keep traditions or rituals if they still serve you.
Try something different: Now might be the time to start new rituals or traditions. My husband enjoyed A Christmas Story, but I rarely watched it with him. Now, I watch it every Christmas night. We used to open presents on Christmas night, savor the after-present fun, eat leftovers from my family’s Christmas Eve dinner, and watch a holiday movie. The first Christmases without him were brutal as I sat alone on Christmas night—for the first time in my life. Therefore, I started the tradition of eating leftovers and watching A Christmas Story (with my cats). Perhaps start your own new tradition. Maybe attend Christmas Eve services at your church or volunteer. Some organizations have candlelight services to remember loved ones.
Take comfort from pets: Animals don’t know it’s the holidays. They likely feel the shift in energy that comes during this time of year. But Christmas is just another day to them. They don’t place judgment on this day or any other day. I’ve often found that comforting. If they don’t care if it’s a holiday, why should I? They love me regardless of what day it is, and I’ve turned to my cats frequently to comfort me when I’ve felt others were celebrating while I was home alone.
This happened just last week. I had a concert with my new choir group. Thankfully, my mom and nephew attended the concert. But they took off immediately upon the concert’s conclusion. I looked around the venue and saw many spouses and family members gathered around the singers, while I was alone. While driving home alone, I felt melancholy that my spouse was not at the concert and that unlike many of my fellow singers, I was once again driving home alone. When I arrived home, my cats greeted me immediately. That made me happy. I instantly forgot that I was alone. Instead, I basked in their love. As I discuss in my book, my cats have constantly been the beings who have provided me the most comfort. If you have pets, let them comfort and love you this holiday season. They don’t care that it’s Christmas. They just care about you!
Be OK if you feel happy or want to celebrate: Grief is confusing. Sometimes the pain is unbearable, and other days you may feel happy. That’s ok. In fact, our loved ones would want us to celebrate and be happy. We aren’t betraying them by celebrating. This concept was hard for me for the first Christmases without my husband. How could I celebrate without him? How could I feel happy? Now, I’m able to celebrate and be happy during the holidays and can recognize that he’d want that. My husband loved Christmas, so I know he’d want me to have fun. If you feel happy some days, want to celebrate, and get into the spirit of the season, that’s all good! Allow that.
Have compassion for yourself: Living through the holidays without your loved one can be very painful. Have compassion for yourself if you feel sad or don’t want to participate. Don’t expect yourself to be ok. Also, grief takes a lot of energy, so you may need to rest more. Allow yourself to rest; also, you may need more sleep.
Seek support: The holidays may be a good time to reach out to a grief counselor for support. I worked with a grief counselor for years, and she helped me immensely. She listened to me and helped me recognize that my feelings were normal. I have a list of grief counselors on my website. Or perhaps if you’re part of a faith-based community, reach out to someone who can be there for you during this time.
I wish you the best this holiday season. Peace and hugs to all of you.