’Tis the Season: It Is Okay To Feel ‘Blah’ Coping with Grief and Loss during the Holidays

Part 4 of our Holiday Blog Series

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When holiday music echoes through the halls of department stores and busy employees hustle to meet their year-end goals, you know the holiday season has begun. However, it can be hard to spread holiday cheer if you’re missing that someone special.

If you’ve experienced a loss recently,  or even if you miss someone who passed away decades ago, the holidays can be a difficult time. Here are some tips to help you cope with loss during this festive season. Using these tools, you may even begin to look forward to the holidays again!


Be Honest with yourself

The holidays are a great-time to engage in some self-reflection and to take stock of your true feelings. It’s okay if you don’t feel cheery about the holiday season. Everyone grieves differently, and it is important to he honest with yourself about what you need. Decide which festivities you wish to take part in, and which you prefer to skip. Express your wishes clearly to your loved ones. Setting expectations with family and planning ahead can reduce your stress later.

If you find yourself at a party,  it’s perfectly acceptable to take a moment and remove yourself from the crowd. Take a walk outside, focus on your breathing, or leave if you feel you’ve have had enough. Thinking ahead about your coping skills can help alleviate the stress of being in a social setting that may produce feelings of grief and sadness.

Take time to remember

Often we just go through the motions of performing holiday-related tasks to avoid what is actually on our minds. We may find ourselves buying gifts for loved ones and attending parties, seemingly swept up in the holiday spirit, but are we?  It is easy to be overwhelmed and lose track of your own grief when others around you may seem to be in the holiday spirit. Before you know it, another holiday has come and gone, but you remain immersed in feelings of sorrow. To make it worse, there are constant reminders at the holidays of moments you may have shared with the person you are grieving that may make it hard to forget.

Taking a few minutes to remember a loved one during the holidays can allow you the time to grieve. For example, my grandmother passed five years ago and she loved the holidays, so my family and I always take the time at Christmas dinner to talk about happy memories. We remember her singing her heart out in the church choir which always brought a smile to our faces. Taking a brief moment to remember allows us to openly express how we feel, rather than avoid her absence. Acknowledging the person you miss can make the holiday more meaningful, but it doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate with the other people you love.

Traditions

Whether you create new traditions or continue the traditions you had when a loved one was with you, it can be helpful to do things to make them feel like a part of the holidays. Decide which traditions you enjoyed with your loved one, as well as any new traditions you may want to start in memory of him or her. If your grandmother made the best apple pie, make it! Of course she will not be the one making it, and it may not taste as good as hers did, but she will have a seat at your holiday table and that will make it an even more memorable. My friend’s mother passed away last year and loved running at the beach, now her family has a new tradition of running on the beach every Thanksgiving. New traditions can help carry on the memory of those we love, and make the traditions you shared with the person more meaningful.

Take Time for You

Coping with the loss of a loved can feel overwhelming near the holidays. You may find yourself consoling others (a spouse, children, siblings, parent, etc.) when you need consoling yourself!  However, in order to grieve and find peace, it is most important to focus on ourselves. Continue with the things you like to do at the holidays, and don’t feel guilty for doing so. The person you miss would be happy you did.

As difficult as it may seem, do not shy away from friends and obligations, especially  if you are doing so just to avoid difficult conversations. Talking about your loved one can be therapeutic, and your friends and family will understand if you say you do not want to talk about it anymore. Another option is to seek professional help from a therapist. A therapist can offer a safe space to grieve and process your thoughts. Therapy allows us to express private or intimate thoughts we may not feel comfortable sharing with other people,

Although sleeping in and not getting dressed up for that Secret Santa dinner party may sound like a good idea, surrounding yourself with the people may be just the thing you need! Don’t get me wrong, if you need the occasional night at home near the holidays that’s OK, just make sure you understand why you are doing so, and try to avoid doing it habitually.

I hope you have found this helpful. You should understand that It’s OK if the holidays are not always cheerful to you. Often, when we don’t feel like talking about our grief that is the most important time to do so. Confide in the people closest to you (or a therapist) and try to not bottle up your emotions. That’s easier said than done--I know. It takes courage and trust, but over time you will feel better. Happy Holidays!

Alysha Perlman, LCSW is a therapist at A Good Place. To learn more about her, check out her bio here.