Because the holidays are so entwined with the concept of friends and loved ones in our minds, they can be anything but merry when someone has lost a loved one, whether to death, separation or divorce. For the grieving, the holidays are a reminder of who and what has been lost and the season can end up being more hurtful than happy.
If you’re grieving, don’t try to put on a brave face. Be honest about your feelings and don’t beat yourself up because you’re blue when everyone else seems happy. Allow yourself to grieve whether the loss is a week, a month or a year old. Plan to spend time with people who will understand what you’re going through. If you don’t have a friend or family member you can talk to, seek counseling. And don’t force yourself to celebrate the holiday as usual and put on a happy face if you’re not feeling it.
“For some, the framework of holiday traditions provides comfort, but if it’s torture, know that you are entitled to cancel your plans. Take a year off. The holidays will come around again. Do nothing more than what you want,” says loss specialist David Kessler.
Perhaps you can “include” your loved one in your holiday by saying a prayer for him or her before holiday dinner; share stories about your loved one and invite others to share theirs; light a candle; write a tribute; or make a donation to a cause that was important to him or her in life. Don’t feel you have to adhere to old traditions if they’re too painful; feel free to start new ones that allow you to remember your loved one in a way that’s meaningful and healing.
There’s no magic formula to help you “get over” your feelings of grief and loss, so be patient with yourself. As an anonymous author once wrote, “Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith… it is the price of love.”
If you know someone who is grieving during the holiday season, don’t avoid them because you’re afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing; ask if you can help or, better yet, just help. Be there for them and be supportive, knowing that they are suffering. If he or she wants to talk, listen. And never tell them to “get over it.” Grief is a process that everyone handles differently. It takes some people more time than others to go through that process. The best gift you can give to someone who is grieving this holiday season is the gift of yourself.