It’s hard to believe Thanksgiving is this week and Christmas is a just a mere 4 weeks after! As you get excited about stuffing your face with turkey, setting the alarm for early deals, and cutting down the perfect tree- remember, this time of year can be especially tender for those who’ve experienced loss.
My dad passed away 6 years ago, and the holidays still bring mixed emotions. Last year Thanksgiving and Christmas were extremely hard as we mourned the loss of our first pregnancy. No matter what your loss looks like-whether it’s a family member, pet, friend, job and no matter how long ago it happened- days ago, months ago, years ago; your grief matters.
So how do you navigate the holidays after grief? How do you celebrate the holidays with someone who is grieving? Here are some of my personal reflections and suggestions- will they be the same for everyone? No. Could it help you be more aware of those around you this holiday season? I hope so.
- The number one, top of the list, most important thing you can do is acknowledge the situation/who’s missing. The most hurtful thing of all, is gathering with family and friends and everyone acting like nothing is different. There is no quicker way to minimize a loss than by ignoring it. The loss never goes away, and we never want our loved one(s) to be forgotten- so even years down the road, acknowledge they are missed.
- At the same time, don’t draw excessive attention to the situation/loss. One of the comforting things about the holidays is tradition. You know what to expect. Loss and grief are unpredictable- to know what you’re walking into and knowing what to expect is so reassuring during the holidays. Don’t surprise us with an unannounced special ‘memorial time’. Don’t put us on the spot. Don’t ask everyone to share a memory UNLESS you’ve checked with the grieving person first. It can be healing, but it can also be awkward and more emotional.
- Understand that emotions and tears may come out of nowhere. Little things you couldn’t have predicted may set someone off. A certain song, gift, picture, situation may hit them in just the right way and they can’t control their reaction. Often, they might not even know why they’re crying, upset, etc… PLEASE don’t make it more awkward. Carry on your conversation or activities and just let the person be. Put your arm around them, give them a hug, offer a tissue but please don’t stare or stop an activity as you ‘wait’ for them to stop. If they need to walk out for a minute to have some space, let them go. They’ll often be able to compose themselves again and rejoin the celebration, but giving space to grieve is so important.
- Don’t wait for the day of the holiday to share your sympathy or encouragement with someone. One of the most sincere, heart warming things you can do is send a card, text, or email a few days/weeks beforehand to let that person know you are thinking of them during the holidays. Being thought of out of the blue is so meaningful. To have others acknowledge your grief is healing. It also helps you avoid potentially awkward situations at parties while still letting that person know you see them and feel for them.
- Laughter is healing. Don’t think that just because someone is grieving your entire holiday season has to be somber and bleak. Those grieving are looking for joy. They are looking for happiness. It’s okay to laugh and have fun! Don’t tone yourself down because you think you need to be ‘sad’ for them. Remember, they want normalcy.
- For those of you that are grieving, if you don’t want to do something, don’t! It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to skip a party. There will always be next year, or the year after that. For those of you hosting a party, don’t be offended if someone doesn’t want to come. Sometimes being around family and friends is just too hard. Never pressure someone to come or make them feel guilty for not. Acknowledge grief is hard and know that there is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays.
- Pray. Prayer is powerful. If you’re dreading a certain event, feeling hopeless, or don’t know how to approach the holidays- lift it up in prayer. I often find that when I let go and give it to God, He gives me the strength, peace, and/or joy I’m in need of when I least expect it. You don’t have to do this alone! He is there every minute of every day. If you’re the one supporting those grieving, you can also pray! Pray for those grieving to know they are loved, pray for them to have peace during this season, and pray for strength to face tough situations.
- Connect with others. There are many that have walked the road of grief. Don’t be afraid to ask others what they did, how they handled the holidays, or if they’d be willing to listen as you share your concerns/struggles this time of year. Knowing you’re not alone is healing in itself. Be brave enough to ask for help, and humble enough to offer it.
You will get through the holidays and they will get easier…eventually. Don’t rush it. If you have any other ideas or advice regarding grief during the holidays, please share! We can all learn and grow from each other.
Have a BLESSED Thanksgiving and Christmas…even if they’re not particularly happy or merry. ❤