The holiday season will never be the same. After you lose someone you love, you’re not the same, either. How do you get through the holidays when you’re grieving? These ideas won’t erase your pain, but they might help you find a little hope, peace, and acceptance.
My grandma died 20 years ago, and I still grieve through every holiday season. My aunt died more than 10 years ago, and I think about her almost every day. I didn’t learn how to grieve with hope and faith until recently, but I’m still sad that my family isn’t what it once was. It really is surreal and sad, sometimes overwhelming and even scary. Living through the holiday season without someone you shared your life with – someone who knew you in ways nobody else ever could – is hard. Even if you’re surrounded by friends, family and coworkers, you’re still filled with the emptiness and sadness because nobody could ever take the place of the person you lost.
You might not be surprised to learn that I don’t have magic fairy dust that will teach you how to get through the holidays when you’re grieving the loss of someone you love. Nor can I put you in a time travel machine so you can wake up to a whole new seasons. But you knew that already, didn’t you? You’re not searching the internet for a miracle. You’re looking for comfort, companionship, and support to get you through the holidays. And you’re in the right place.
The hardest part of getting through the holidays is also the healthiest: allowing your grief to well up inside your heart and spill over into your body, mind, and soul. It’s important to feel and express your pain. It’s also scary, because you feel like you’re losing control of yourself and maybe even going crazy…but that’s part of the healing process.
5 Tips for Getting Through the Holidays When You’re Grieving
The holiday season or celebration — Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, a birthday or anniversary — will never be the same. When one person is missing, the whole world becomes less colorful. A single moment changes everything, and the grieving process continues for years, holiday after holiday.
Right now you have a decision to make. Your decision has the power to change everything. You can grow forward through grief or let it destroy your holiday season. You can hold the pain of your grief or decide to move into the new season God has planned.
Choose life, because your loved one can’t.
1. Hold the grief close so it doesn’t crush you
A parable in Frank Ostaseski’s book The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully shows us what to do when the world comes crashing down.
A burly middle-aged man had a job installing telephone poles. “They’re hard and heavy, standing up to forty feet high,” he said. “There’s a critical moment after you place a pole in the ground; it’s unstable and might topple over. If it hits you, it could break your back.”
On his first day of work he said to an old-timer, “If this pole starts to fall, I’m running like heck!” The old-timer replied, “Nope, you don’t want to do that. You don’t know which way to run and you’ll be crushed. If that pole starts to fall, you want to go right up to it. You want to get real close and put your hands on the pole. It’s the only safe place to be.”
The grieving process can feel like a falling telephone pole: uncontrollable, unstoppable, and destructive. If you run from grief, it will crush you. But if you move in close and allow it to flow through you, you’ll disarm it. This seems like an odd or contradictory way to get through the holidays when you’re grieving, but it’s effective. It’s powerful because feeling and expressing your pain will release its power and weaken its intensity.
2. Let grief be an unpredictable, crazy roller coaster
When I learned that my grandma died I thought I would die, too. My heart was shattered, my spirit crushed. All I wanted do was sleep and escape from everything. My life, work, friends and family kept marching right along…yet everything was different. Death is surreal and confusing.
My grandma died 20 years ago and I still suffer bouts of pain and longing. I have regrets, guilt, wishes, yearnings to relive just one day with her. Getting through the holidays has gotten easier as the years pass…but I will never forget the joy, love and peace of Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter with her.
In 5 Simple Ways to Cope With Scary, Overwhelming Grief I offer tips for coping with terrifying “grief setbacks.” The grief setbacks will appear less often and are less overwhelming. The key to getting through the waves of grief — especially through the holiday season — is to expect them. Prepare for random, unanticipated, overwhelming bouts of sadness. Give yourself permission to take a break from the activity. Remember that grieving is part of your holidays now. Accepting this will help you get through the season.
3. Trust your spirit and soul to grieve the “right” way
The more you learn about the stages or cycle of grief, the more normal you’ll feel. The more you connect with others, the more support you’ll have. One of the healthiest ways to get through the holidays is to lean on people who know what it’s like to have loved and lost.
Learn how others coped with “holiday grief” or grieving through the Christmas season. Expect different-yet-similar reactions to loss. Allow yourself to grieve your way while honoring the grief of others. For example, I felt reassured to learn that grieving not only takes energy, it also makes you feel like you’re going crazy. Grief changes how you think.
“When you’re in the grieving process, your thinking patterns are different,” said Dr Norman Wright, author of Experiencing the Loss of a Family Member: Discover the Path to Hope and Healing. “There’s irrational thoughts, there’s a lot of fear. Part of the fear is that, ‘I will never, never get over this.’ And the second big fear is, ‘The loved one that I lost is going to be forgotten.’ And that usually is true. People tend to forget. After about three months, where’s the casserole parade? Where’s everybody coming to help? They’re not around. And we feel isolated. That’s the time when we are in deep, deep pain.”
While there are similarities, grief is different for everyone. Learn how you grieve. You’ll get through the holidays by grieving in ways that fit your personality, circumstances, and lifestyle. You may want to hold on to family traditions when you lose someone you love…or you may feel better if you go somewhere completely different. You may find it comforting to bring out the old holiday decorations…or you may find refreshment and life by creating something new this year.
4. Do what you never did before
Create new, different, wierd reasons to get out of bed. Get your heart pumping, your blood flowing, your lungs inflating! Moving your body is one of the best tips for getting through the holiday season when you’re grieving loss. If you have no reason to “rise and shine” then you need to create activities and responsibilities. Pets — especially dogs — can be especially helpful because they require walks, care, and attention.
Find ways to be involved in the life around you. Animals, kids, coffee shops, library meetings, community activities, church groups, volunteer events, neighborhood associations, and exercise groups have room for you.
If your grief is particularly intense or long-lasting, join a support group or talk to a counselor. Find people who understand loss. Your burden will be lighter if you share it with others — especially over the holidays. Making in-person connections with kindred spirits will get you through the most grievous seasons of your life.
5. Notice your thoughts
How are your thoughts affecting your mood, relationships, energy, and life? Feed your brain good thoughts and your mood will lighten. When unproductive seeds of pain, suffering and grief pop into your head, replace them with the truth.
In Philippians 4:8 the apostle Paul said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the God of peace will be with you.”
Feed your brain nourishing food, hope and comfort when you feel overwhelmed by grief during the holidays. How do you this and what it means depends on your faith, personality, age and lifestyle. Remember that while this world is filled with suffering, it is also filled with beauty, love, joy and hope. You’ll get through the holidays if you stay focused on the everlasting truth of Jesus’ love. He knows your name and loves you through it all.
Feel free to share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below. Writing can help you untangle your emotions and work through the darkest moments of grief and loneliness.