It’s the most wonderful time of the year, the happiest season of all…”
Well, not really. Not if you’ve just lost a loved one, either through death or a separation.
When you’re in mourning, Christmas can be the most challenging experience you will have to endure. The holidays are synonymous with family, and the rituals that come with it can renew the pain, even years after the death.
Sadness is normal and expected during the holidays, no matter how long ago the loss took place. Everything is magnified when December comes.
The first holiday season after a death or a separation can be especially cruel because it is precisely that. Some people find comfort in the familiar; others make a drastic change. The key is to do whatever feels right for you. There are no hard and fast rules, and there is no right or wrong way to get through Christmas and the New Year.
If you have young children, it’s important to take them into consideration. You might not be in the mood to put up the tree or hang the parol, but if your child finds comfort in routine, it’s important to consult with them. Children need to feel secure and comfortable in a time of life-changing loss, and this can often be achieved by keeping family traditions.
A practice I have found helpful with my young clients is for them to write notes or make gifts for their loved one. These can be brought to the gravesite or the columbary on or around Christmas Day. It’s also good practice to allow your child to talk about their feelings and memories about the loved one who died.
The holidays are also the most stressful time of the year. Traffic can be both daunting and insane. Don’t give in to holiday stress. Be especially kind to yourself. If the usual activities and parties energize you, then go. But avoid them if they stress you out.
Friends and family members who truly care about you will understand if you aren’t able to make it this year.
Crying, and lots of it, is expected, and will happen more often over the holidays. Unburden yourself. You are not going crazy.
Seek the company of friends who listen and understand. Go see your spiritual director, or visit a counselor, coach or therapist if need be. You need not go through the holidays alone, because help is always just a phone call or an SMS away.
Take extra care of yourself. Slow down and treat yourself as you would your best friend. Avoid the excesses of the holiday season. Make sure to carve out lots of quiet time.
Make room for prayer and meditation. Get in some exercise, and make sure you get a decent amount of sleep. Sleep is so crucial in combating stress.
Here are some helpful ideas to navigate the holiday season.
1) Change family traditions, or create new ones. You are now living your new normal. Decide what you would like to do as a family.
2) Celebrate your loved one’s memory by donating to charity—ideally, to a cause that reminds you of your loved one.
3) Step out of your pain and loneliness and share the holidays with others who may be lonely. Go where your heart leads—to a home for the aged, a center for abused women, an orphanage, a hospital ward. Giving and caring for others, even when we are in pain, is a selfless and healing act.
5) Make sure to prepare yourself emotionally and physically for the onslaught of the holidays by sleeping well, exercising, eating healthy food, and carving out lots of quiet time for yourself.
Pain during the holiday season is inevitable. The key is in learning how to manage it, and in reminding yourself that it will not always be this way.
Remember the real reason for the season and find hope and courage in Jesus’ birth.
I love what former US Vice President Joe Biden wrote in his latest book, “Promise Me Dad.” In the early ’70s, Biden lost his wife and baby daughter in an automobile accident. Two years ago, he lost his son Beau to brain cancer.
Biden knows about grief and has stared loss in the eye and survived it, too many times in his life. His life is testament of God’s grace and faithfulness.
I find great truth and comfort in this passage, where he says to the young widow of a NYPD officer who was gunned down, “There will come a time when you’ll go riding by a field that you both loved, or see a flower, or smell a fragrance of his suit when he took it off and hung it in the closet, or you’ll hear a song, or you’ll look at the way someone walks, and it will all come back.
“But someday down the line, God knows when, you’ll realize it doesn’t make you want to cry. It makes you smile. The time will come when the memory will bring a smile to your lips, before it brings a tear to your eye. That will happen, I assured her. And that is when you know that you’ve turned a corner.”