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Surviving the Holiday after Loss - A Special Post in Honor of this Different Holiday Season.
The smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin pie. The taste roasted turkeys, stuffing, and mash potatoes with gravy. Houses adorned with cypress wreaths and Christmas lights. Seeing the snow cascading gently to the ground, melting as they fall on our bare skin, and caching them on your tongue. The sounds of sleigh bells, carolers, and crackling fires, and voices declaring Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays to each other.
This is how I envision the holidays because this is what I grew up with. Holidays were truly the most wonderful, magical time of year. The holidays filled up everyone of my senses, while overflowing my heart with love and kindness.
However, for many this year the holidays will be vastly different. The senses we used to feed the joyfulness of the holiday season, will be replaced with a different sense…a sense of loss.
This year there will be empty chairs at the tables, some due to the fact that an elderly or other members of a family cannot join in on holiday traditions, for fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus, and some because we have loss cherished family members to this virus, or anything other illness or cause. Holiday traditions as we know them are gone, parades, and sitting on Santa’s lap is a thing of the past, or now reinvented using the internet. School parties, and other holiday festivities have been changed, or cancelled, and our own family traditions are going to be different this year.
This year for many, the table setting will be bleak and disconnected. The main course will be heavy, and feel empty, even though your tummy is full. It will be served with a side dish of loneliness and isolation, followed by an overwhelming dessert of helplessness, and exhaustion.
This year will be different for many! If you have someone that cannot be with you this holiday season, due to the fact they cannot risk the chance of contracting the COVID Virus. Find some way to stay connected to them. If you can use facetime, or a portal of some kind to include them in the holiday festivities, for their sake as well as for yours. My 92-year-old neighbor cannot be with her children and grandchildren this holiday, but they are planning on bringing the holiday to her. They will be leaving dinner at her door, and they are going to come and sit on her patio, singing carols, and making merry. Take time to go out of your way to let the person know you love them.
For those of us that have lost friends or family members this year due to a death from COVID, or any other cause. We will quickly understand that these first few holiday milestones will lose their magic and sparkle. The loss will feel fresher, and the pain deeper around the holidays. So, if your holiday is serving up a whopping helping of grief, here are a few tips to help you cope with the loss.
1. Acknowledge that the holidays will feel different and be difficult.
The holidays can be an emotional minefield, and most of the time just the anticipation over how tough something is going to be is worse than the actual event itself. I found this to be especially true for the first Thanksgiving I spent without my Dad. My dad passed away, November 22nd 1989, the day before Thanksgiving. The following year Thanksgiving was the roughest. Dinner only lasted a few hours, and I spent weeks dreading it. When it finally arrived, although it was hard, it was not as difficult as I had imagined. Dad may not have been sitting at the table with us, but he was ever presence in my mind and my heart.
2. Remember their memory.
There’s a misconception that bringing up a deceased loved one’s memory will inflame the pain, but for the grieving, saying the name of the person you lost and sharing memories in conversation, help with the coping. This holiday dust of the photo albums, chat and talk about the person you love and lost. Share stories and memories with your family and friends. Just because they are not physically here, does not mean they are gone. Make their favorite dish or recipe, name it for them. Give a toast in their honor. Lite a candle to represent their presence. Keep them close, keep them in your prayers.
3. Seek support.
The holidays can be extremely difficult, just because everyone is so happy, and joyful. While you are trying to be kind to everyone else, remember to be kind to yourself. Accept that you are struggling and seek out others who understand this struggle. Allow yourself to grieve if you want and need to. If you know someone is uncomfortable with your sorrow, do not spend time with them. Surround yourself with those who can support you and are sensitive to your feelings.
4. Celebrate the holidays with new traditions.
The loss of the loved one is a great time to evaluate what parts of the holiday traditions you enjoy, and what parts you do not. Don’t be apprehensive to create entirely new traditions or alter familiar ones to make them fit better with this new phase in your life. You may seek out new activities this year, and next year feel more comfortable with old traditions. Allow yourself this flexibility. Decide what is best for you.
5. Skip the holidays altogether, if you feel the need.
Give yourself permission to skip the holidays altogether. Holidays are fun, and exciting, but awfully hard work. Learn how to say no to everyone and everything that you need to. Say yes to yourself and self-care. Cancel whatever you feel you need to cancel. Take a year off. Holidays are here every year. Take inventory of what you are genuinely feeling and want this holiday season. This holiday serve yourself and your own soul.
6. Seek Gratitude.
“Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic.” — John Henry Jowet. Gratitude will lift your spirit, and heal your soul, mind, and body. Start a gratitude journal, write down everything daily that you are grateful for in detail. Allow yourself time to express why you were grateful to have the person that you lost in your life. Take time to name the things you are still grateful for in your life, even without them being present. Be grateful that you will someday see them again.
7. Avoid things in your daily life that seem overwhelming
The one thing about the holidays is there are triggers everywhere when you are grieving. Music on the radio, television programs centered around the holiday theme, social media post, everyone happy and looking forward to the holidays. Photos on Pinterest and Instagram. Although you may be drowning in grief, keep in mind life goes on for other people. You should respect their happiness, as you want them to respect your sorrow, but remember you do have some control. Take a break from social media, listen to a station that is not playing jolly holly tunes, and pick up a book to read, rather than becoming a couch potato, watching television and eating snacks, or find a good mystery movie, instead of a holiday one.
8. Take Care of Yourself
Embraced the fact that everyone grieves differently. Set realistic expectations for yourself. If you do not feel like joining in the holiday spirit, then don’t. However, eat healthy! Often when we grieve, we either do not eat, or we overeat. Eat in moderation, and when you choose something to eat, pick something that is healthy, fruits, veggies, and wholefoods. Exercise daily, Exercise relieves stress, and helps deter depression and improves your self-esteem. Get enough sleep, especially important. Remember grieving is taxing physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Also, watch alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a depressant, it can amplify your sorrows.
9. Pay it forward.
Even amid grief, you still have something to offer the world. Performing a few acts of kindness can be good for the grieving spirit. Doing something kind for others, leaving food items, and holly day cheer on your neighbors door step, delivering presents to the disadvantaged, although we need to watch contact with the COVID 19 virus, there are many contactless activities we can still do to bring joy to someone else, and in turn brightening our own spirits.
The holidays are some of the roughest terrains we navigate after a loss, and the ways we cope with them are as individual as we are. However, you choose to spend your holidays know that you will get through them and come out on the other side stronger than you were before. And if happiness does slip onto your plate of grief this year, allow yourself to take a bite and enjoy it. Feast on whatever little moments of holiday cheer you find this season. You won’t be doing the memory of your loved one any injustice by feeling stuffed with holiday happiness.
The best gift you can give and receive this time of year is being true to yourself and living your life to the fullest, even as you adjust to the loss. Whether that loss, be the passing of a loved one, or just the loss you feel because you are unable to physically be with friends and family.
This is a different year, a different holiday, a different world for all of us. We need to hold onto hope and remember experiencing some nostalgic or sad moments is not a necessarily a bad thing, what we are experiencing is just part of life…life after loss.