Grieving the Holidays: When You Have Lost a Loved One

I’ll never forget the holiday season in 2001. While Americans were still in denial and shock while grieving the pain of a historical mile marker on domestic soil, so was I, but for additional reasons. A double dose of grief was personally felt that holiday season as I experienced, for the first time, the loss of all the members of my family of origin while I was still in my 30’s. My maternal grandmother had passed away in 1987, and both of my parents passed away in 2001.

My personal “firsts” of life experiences with my “new normal” rang in the season with a vengeance much faster and furious than the songs of the season.

To anyone who has lost a loved one this year, let me first “normalize” some things you may be thinking about or experiencing. I will first discuss grief in general and then give some tips for the holiday season.

❤️ Time does not heal.

That’s right. Time is neutral. In and of itself, it does nothing. What you do with the time, however, is crucial to the grieving process. And, yes, it is a process that is not to be rushed.

The grieving takes at least 6 months to two years. Be kind to yourself as you maneuver through life without your loved one.

❤️ There is no “right” way or “wrong” way to grieve.

Members in your family may grieve differently than you do, and that is okay.

❤️ Do not stuff your emotions.

Our emotions are God-given. Give yourself permission to cry over the loss of your loved one and realize that it is the first step for processing your loss.

I’ve heard it said again and again, “I have to be strong.” Where did the origin of that belief come from? Since I’m a former “stuffer,” I can tell you that it just doesn’t work.

❤️ Talk with friends and/or family.

My experience with friends was that they were hesitant to ask how I was doing in the weeks and months following my parents’ passing because they didn’t want to upset me. If you would like to talk with a close friend, give yourself permission to initiate the discussion.

❤️ Journal your thoughts and emotions.

This is very therapeutic to the healing process, and is extremely beneficial even if it is just for your personal benefit.

❤️. Do not be surprised by unexpected triggers.

One year after my parents’ passing I was having a fun day at a mall with two close friends when the song my mother dedicated to me as an infant started to play over the audio system. Tears rolled down my cheeks faster than I could retreat to a corner to pretend I was looking at the items on display.

These triggers will come unexpectedly, so it’s okay to know that you will be caught off guard.

❤️ Don’t pretend that you are okay.

Stating it simply, this doesn’t help you at all. Maybe to the acquaintance you see in the grocery store, you may put up a strong front, but don’t try to do that with those with whom you have closer relationships.

❤️ Don’t choose unhealthy behaviors as you grieve.

Troubling your trouble only complicates a very difficult situation. Examples include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

– alcohol and/or drug consumption
– spending money
– rushing into a new relationship

❤️ Monitor your thinking.

Be careful how you interpret this loss. For example, statements like “I wish I had….”, “I ought to have….”, or “I can’t move on” serve no purpose in your healing and only keep you stuck in the past.

❤️ Write a grief letter to God, close friends, or family members.

This therapeutic exercise allows you to further process your emotions and assists in the cleansing process.

——–

Now I’d like to address some tips especially for the holidays. Remember that there is no “right” way or “wrong” way to handle the holiday season, especially if this is the first one without your loved one. Here are some things to consider and discuss with close friends and family members:

🌲 Accept the fact that this time of year will be difficult.

🌲 Lower expectations for yourself and your “to do” list.

There is no “rule” about decorating the house, attending parties, or having the same expectations for yourself as in previous years.

🌲 Verbalize your feelings to a close (same sex) friend, family member, or spouse.

If you are married, make the intentional effort to discuss your feelings with your mate. If your spouse has lost a parent, be proactive in connecting with your spouse who has been on an emotional roller coaster ride, and have a daily check in with him/her to see what he/she is feeling and how you can be the emotional support that he/she needs.

🌲 Set boundaries.

It’s okay to say “no” to certain events or activities.

🌲 Cope in healthy ways.

Do not numb your pain with drugs, alcohol, overeating, or other unhealthy behaviors. Don’t rationalize these behaviors, especially since it’s the holiday season.

🌲 Start a new tradition in your loved one’s memory.

The Christmas following my parents’ deaths, I decided to decorate a small, artificial tree for each of them that reminded me of them. My father’s tree is decorated in red, white, and blue since he was a career military man; my mother’s tree is feminine with many sparkles and shiny ornaments.

🌲 Self care is crucial.

Sleep, nutrition, exercise, having a support system, and incorporating your walk with God into your daily life assist in combating depression and stress.

🌲 It’s acceptable for you to spend time alone, say “no” to holiday gatherings, or not be as involved in holiday festivities this season. However, if there is a PATTERN of isolation, changes in eating or sleeping habits, or feelings of hopelessness/helplessness, seek professional help as soon as possible.

🌲 After the holiday season is over, reflect on what was easy and what was difficult.

Make notes for changes in future holidays or special occasions.

🌲 Be kind to yourself and show yourself grace.

Many emotions will manifest themselves.

Let me offer a final word of HOPE during this holiday time.

Immanuel – “God With Us (YOU)” – can now be manifest in an entirely new way. That is why God incarnate came to you. Watch how He guides you through this season with a light that shines brighter than the one that announced His birth. You don’t have to find Him as the wise men did. He’s with you every step of the way.

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