For most people, the holidays are a joyous time to get together with family, share traditions and give each other gifts. However, for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, this season can be a bittersweet one, even downright depressing.
Anyone who has lost someone knows that the first holidays without your loved one are one of the most devastating experiences you will go through. Memories are everywhere, and your grief can be isolating, especially when those around you start happily mentioning family gatherings and gift ideas.
I lost my mom to colon cancer in 2015, and the first Christmas without her was undoubtedly awful. Although my family decided to spend the holiday at a hotel to make the location neutral and “memory-free,” my mom’s absence was palpable and haunting. I missed sitting next to her and making sarcastic comments. My sisters were miserable and half-heartedly opened their gifts as they blinked back tears.
I realized after that Christmas that nothing would ever truly be the same. But now, as I brace myself for a second holiday season without my mom, I’ve learned some useful lessons to deal with my grief during the next few weeks. It is important to acknowledge that everyone grieves differently and at their own pace, so what has worked for me might not work for everyone.
Grieving and feeling sad is OK
You don’t have to put on a brave face if that’s not how you truly feel. Losing someone hurts, and embracing that hurt can encourage healthy grieving. Let yourself feel sad, angry, or bitter, until you’re ready to go on. Call a friend or relative who knows what you’re going through and talk about it, even if it’s not easy at first. If you feel like there’s no one you can talk to in person, there are plenty of online support groups and forums where you can vent and get great feedback.
Externalizing your grief is a way of healing, as difficult as it might be. It is the “most wonderful time of the year” for some, but not necessarily for you. And that’s OK.
Remembering your loved one’s traditions
My mom used to make apple salad for dessert every single Christmas, and last year was the first time we didn’t eat it. We missed it. I’m attempting to recreate it this year as a tribute to her. You can also continue your loved one’s traditions to honor their memory.
If it’s the first holiday season without your loved one, it might be challenging to do so, so take your time. If you’re not ready, that’s completely understandable.
Something that has helped me tremendously during this season has been the practice of self-care. Whenever the thought of spending another Christmas without my mom is too much to bear, I find something relaxing to do.
I usually indulge in writing, baking, taking a walk, playing with our dog, or watching a silly romantic comedy. Grief can often make us feel guilty of enjoying things, but going out with friends or simply cooking a nice meal for yourself can do wonders for you.
The purpose of self-care is to do something that brings you comfort. It is not easy at first, but the more you practice it, the easier it gets.
How to help someone who is grieving
Maybe you’re not the one who lost a loved one, but someone close to you did. You might not want to bother them or say the wrong thing, which is normal when witnessing someone’s grief. When we’re grieving, we can also be a bit unpleasant to be around at times, since we’re still processing the loss. Do not take it personally!
I was, and still am, truly grateful whenever someone reached out during the holidays and told me they were thinking of me and my sisters. Sometimes, that’s all we need to hear. Offering to bring meals, or gifts to children (if there are any), is always welcome. Offering to help in any way can make the burden of grieving a little lighter.
You can also offer to donate to a charity in memory of their loved one. That’s always a thoughtful gift.
Know that the mourner might not want to socialize much, or may decline some holiday party invitations. If their loss is recent, it can be overwhelming to deal with people constantly offering condolences during a social event. Small, intimate gatherings with close loved ones might be best.
Also, know that there isn’t an expiration date for grief. Maybe your friend or relative lost their loved one years ago, but the pain remains the same. The holiday season might trigger their grief even more, and that’s normal.
You’re not alone and help is available
As isolating as grief may feel sometimes, there are many resources available to help you cope and people who’ve gone through what you’re now facing. Fight CRC offers several resources and a community of fighters who can help. Additionally, if you need short-term cancer counseling or emotional assistance call our Resource Line at 1-877-427-2111.