Recently, I took some time with my family to set up the Christmas tree. As I pulled the ornaments out of the box, each one brought different memories. I laughed out loud (literally) at some of the ridiculous ornaments we keep only for sentimental value, like the “well loved” elf my husband has had since childhood. Other decorations reminded me of when the kids were little and still enjoyed making homemade ornaments with construction paper and sparkles. Other ornaments brought sad memories, like the tiny pair of baby shoes that mark the year we had a miscarriage. Holiday traditions as simple as setting up a Christmas tree can bring a flood of memories and feelings.
For people who are grieving, traditions can be especially difficult at Christmas time. Holiday traditions are shared with people we love and they are embedded with so many memories. When someone in our close circle has died, these simple traditions that once brought us joy can become a source of intense pain. While it is impossible to avoid feelings of grief and loss, it is possible to reduce the intensity of sadness and loss often experienced over the holidays. If you are missing someone this Christmas, I hope you find the suggestions below helpful as you prepare for the holidays:
1. Be patient and kind to yourself as you approach the holidays.
It is normal to experience deep feelings of sadness and loss, and it is common for those feelings to intensify as we approach the holidays. Give yourself extra time and space to process your grief, and reach out to others around you if you need extra support.
2. Find a cause to invest in.
There is a saying, “Grief is just love with no place to go”. When we love someone, that love doesn’t die with them; it remains alive in our hearts. The challenge becomes not knowing what to do with all of this love. At Christmas time, we may be used to buying gifts for our loved one, but we no longer have that person to exchange gifts with—reminding us of our loss. Some people find it helpful to find a cause that honours the memory of their loved one. Giving time or money to a suitable charity can be helpful, as it gives expression to the love in your heart.
3. Create new traditions.
Grief changes us. We are different people from having loved and lost someone near to us, and sometimes it is helpful for us to change our traditions to create a new normal. If you have a holiday tradition that feels unbearable in the absence of your loved one, don’t do it. Instead, consider doing something new… possibly entirely different. Having something new to look forward to can sometimes create a healthy distraction and make the pain of loss more manageable. If it’s in your budget to have a destination Christmas, the change of scenery and new experiences could be exactly what you need to get through the holidays. Sometimes, even a small change can be helpful. For example, if it has been your tradition to exchange gifts with your family, it may be a nice change to invest in an experience instead. You can avoid the gift exchange by treating your family instead to a night out at the movies, a dinner, the theatre, a weekend away… whatever your family can afford and enjoy. Creating new traditions can help alleviate some of the added sadness old traditions often bring.
Most important is to find what works for you. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. You may have your own ideas coming to mind even now. It may be helpful to take some time to create a Christmas plan that works best for you and your family.
While it may feel like a tall order, may you find peace this Christmas.