Holidays bring up the best and worst in our emotions. Grief is a particularly difficult emotion to face at a time when “cheer” is attached to every song, card, and advertisement. In reality, no fewer people are hurting this time of year, yet it feels like we are given less space to be sad.
Painting on a fake smile won’t help, but there are a few tips you may find useful. None will eliminate your sense of sadness, but they may ease the burden. I can tell you one thing for certain, you are NOT alone. There is an empty seat at my table too.
Here are my suggestions for navigating grief this holiday:
Don’t ignore or cancel the holiday – While there may be some events that will feel like too much at first, don’t isolate yourself completely. Instead, look for a balance of activities with others and quiet time for grieving. Gatherings with close friends would be a good choice right now.
Reach out a helping hand – Helping others is a great way to battle emotional pain. To know you have made a difference in someone’s life, made them smile, is a beautiful feeling.
Start a new tradition – Holidays without your loved one will not be the same, instead of striving for “normal” begin a tradition of recognizing their place in your heart. Set an extra place at the table, light a special candle, create a memorial spot on the mantel, or prepare a favorite dish. What matters is that the tradition that feels right for your relationship and family.
Care for yourself in a healthy way – In grief there is a temptation to want to bury or self medicate the pain by drinking alcohol, over-eating, or other behaviors that mask hurt. This may feel good for a moment, but will make things worse in the long run. Instead, try adding some exercise or walking to your routine. Physical activity has been proven to elevate mood and will leave you healthier.
Prepare yourself for emotional surprises – Seriously, nothing I say here can brace you for the emotions that may come up. Simply accept that there is a good chance you will feel laid out at some point and will need support. Prepare by having the phone numbers for friends who are willing to listen, a pastor, therapist, or grief hotline, handy at all times. Gather these when you feel okay so that you don’t have to think when you’re unraveling emotionally.
I hope these tips help you during this difficult season. Have you found any other strategies I’ve missed? Please share so that we can all add them to our “toolbox.”