“I’m unwrapping all these memories, fighting back the tears, it’s just a different kind of Christmas this year.” – Mark Schultz from the song “Different Kind of Christmas”
“Merry Christmas!” & “Happy Holidays!” are hard things to hear and even harder to say when on the inside we feel anything but merry or happy. Grief around the holidays can often feel magnified. A time when we are supposed to feel “merry and bright” can leave us feeling loneliness and despair.
David Kessler’s video on grief and the holidays emphasizes that it is not just the date of the holiday which is hard. It is the month of November or the month of December people often report to be the most difficult. This is because of our anticipatory grief. We often find the days leading up to the holiday are harder than the actual holiday itself. Our expectations of what a holiday should be often make us dread the holiday season when we know it will be impossible to feel the joy and excitement everyone around us is feeling.
Understand if your lost loved one is not brought up at the holidays, it is often because others do not think you want to talk about your loved one or they believe it will make your sadness worse. This is sometimes referred to as “the conspiracy of silence”. We often treat those who are grieving as precious glass. We believe one wrong move or wrong thing said will leave the person shattered beyond repair. However, this is usually not the case and many people would like to talk about their loved one. Our grief can actually be compounded when those around us act as if our loved one never existed. If this is the case, you will often need to provide cues or initiate conversation in order to reminisce about the loved one that is missing.
A few tips if you’re grieving around the holidays:
1. Break tradition. It is okay to skip Christmas this year if you want to. Don’t want to send a Christmas card? Don’t want to put up a Christmas tree? Don’t! It is okay. Christmas will come around again next year.
2. Start a new tradition. Do something that is meaningful and fills you with purpose, like volunteering at the soup kitchen. Start new Christmas traditions or change the old ones: get a real tree instead of fake or vice versa, change the color of your tree, go out to eat instead of making a meal, etc.
3. Do something to honor the person who passed away. If they had a favorite Christmas movie, food, or drink you can still do these things in their memory. Don’t feel you cannot do these things because they aren’t there to do them with you; do them in their honor or memory. Your loved one would want that for you.
4. Allow yourself to grieve. Do not feel you have to put on a happy face and go to the annual family Christmas. If you want to stay home, do so. If you want to try to attend a Christmas gathering, drive yourself so you have the option to leave when you feel ready. Give yourself some grace and accept that it is okay to feel sadness, anger, loneliness, etc. during the holiday season.
5. Don’t be afraid to share stories or bring up your loved one. Once you do so, others will feel more comfortable to do the same and this can be a very positive and healing experience.
6. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to tell someone when you need something or want to make a change. Individual therapy or a support group can also be helpful this time of year.
7. Most importantly, do what feels right for you. You can say no without explanation.