Jessica Troilo Ph.D.

It's All About the Dads

All I Want for Christmas Is You

Celebrating the holidays while grieving can be difficult.

Posted Nov 22, 2018

The holiday season is well upon us, and it can bring excitement, warmth, and time spent with friends and family. Celebrating the holidays while also grieving, however, can be difficult. Some of us might be experiencing our first holiday season without a loved one while others’ loved ones could have passed years ago; regardless of how fresh the loss is, holiday cheer can make grief worse. Tips for helping celebrating the holidays while grieving follows.

Matthew Henry from Burst
Girl opening gift
Source: Matthew Henry from Burst

Choosing to Remember. Many Christmases ago, my grandmother received a gift she wasn’t crazy about. Being my grandma, this became very obvious, very quickly. Added to this, the gift giver couldn’t celebrate with her and arranged to have her reaction to that gift recorded for viewing after the holiday. I believe the VHS tape was “accidentally” recorded over, but this story has been shared almost every year since she had passed, over 25 years ago. It’s a way to keep her in our memories. Families can similarly share stories they remember, offer a prayer to them in remembrance, or do an activity they liked to do. Remembering can be done on an individual basis, too. It can include writing about how that loved one celebrated the holidays, looking at old pictures, or visiting somewhere you liked to go with your lost loved one. It’s important, though, not to force anyone (including yourself) to participate in these activities.

Burst
Family sign
Source: Burst

Create New Traditions. Sometimes death creates changes to holiday traditions. What’s Your Grief provided suggestions for creating new traditions following a loss that vary from choosing new music that reminds you of your loved one to adding a blessing to the dinner. Some families may choose to blend new traditions while keeping the old standards. Sometimes a family may not be ready to create a new tradition and celebrating old traditions may not feel right either. In that case, not celebrating the holidays, or not doing as much to prepare and host and create, may be what’s best. One chaplain referred to this break as a “sabbatical” from the holidays, and it may provide the rest and solace needed to help with the grief process.

Burst
Family Feet
Source: Burst

Adding Mindfulness. Traditions that we rely on, that we find comfort in can suddenly feel like pouring salt in our wounds. We might feel like the absence created by the loss is magnified. For example, every Halloween, my husband, daughter, and I choose our pumpkins, then have a carving night. Admittedly, not the most unique tradition, but we enjoy it…for the most part. Four years ago, we carved four pumpkins, the fourth representing our soon-to-be second child; this became our birth announcement. We ended up losing that child. Since then, carving pumpkins is a reminder about what could have been. This year, however, I tried some mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness is rooted in Buddhism and is the deceptively difficult task of remaining in the present rather than worrying about the future or carrying hurt from the past. Being mindful while grieving can allow us to recognize that grief comes in waves. It may involve meditation, taking some deep breaths, or other activities, but it can help with the management of anxiety and the grieving process, according to researchers.

Ask for Help. In general, holidays can be stressful. When grief is added to the mix, it can sometimes feel overwhelming. The Mayo Clinic offers tips for coping with stress and depression during the holidays like acknowledging your feelings, seeking out help, or seeking professional help. If feelings of grief are overwhelming, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK.

References

Sagula, D., & Rice, K. G. (2004). The effectiveness of mindfulness training on the grieving process and emotional well-being of chronic pain patients. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, 11, 333 - 342.