Soften the Sharp Edges of Grief this Holiday Season
6 strategies for those who are struggling with all the good cheer and tinsel
The holiday season is here and for those of us grieving, it can be a nightmare.
There is nothing like all the holiday festivities to remind you of the void that was left when your loved one died.
It doesn’t help that the pandemic is not yet completely behind us and there is still so much uncertainty and fear.
This will be my fifth Christmas without my mother, and although I thought it would get easier, I have found out that the edges of my grief are a lot sharper and less forgiving around this time.
This might be your first holiday without your loved one, or maybe many years have passed. Either way, the sounds and smells of the holidays that abound feel like torture: a constant gut-wrenching reminder that you will never experience them with your loved one again.
Over the years, I surrendered to the fact that the painful reminders will be everywhere and although there will be many things I cannot control, there are some strategies I can use to help me cope. I hope they will help soften your grief this holiday.
6 Strategies to Cope
One of the first things that would be helpful for you to do is to acknowledge that this period will be difficult and realize that you can prepare yourself by making specific plans and reaching out to friends and family for support when you need it.
Here are 6 strategies you can use to help you navigate this difficult period with as much grace as possible.
1. Decide how much participation you want to have
Only do what feels right for you and communicate your boundaries to your friends and family. It is up to you to figure out what traditions you will be able to handle without dissolving into tears. Allow yourself to be flexible and change your mind. Many times.
Here are some questions to get you started:
- Where do you want to spend the holidays (location)?
- Who do you want to spend the holidays with?
- Which traditions do you want to keep and which ones do you want to change?
- How much decorating do you want to do? You might not want to decorate and put up a tree at all, then don’t!
Try to plan ahead and make sure to communicate in advance to the people who will be affected so that everyone is on the same page. Remember that you can participate and opt out of what feels good to you. You don’t have to feel pressured or put up a brave show. Check in with your feelings and needs and honor your capacity to participate.
2. Create your grief coping toolkit
You might not be able to control what triggers your grief, but you can anticipate the difficult emotions and prepare ahead of time for how you will cope when they surface.
- Make a list of your favorite quotes, inspirational poems, and affirmations that you can read when feelings of grief begin to swell
- Use journaling as a tool to engage with some of the difficult emotions that arise. When we are able to give words to difficult emotions, they become more manageable.
- Create a soothing playlist to calm you down
- Take a long walk out in nature to clear your head
- Practice deep breathing if you feel overwhelmed
- Select compassionate and understanding friends and family who you know will make themselves available to you if you need support and give them a heads up that you might need them
3. Practice Self-Care
- Set aside quiet time to tune into your emotions and process whatever is coming up for you
- Devote time to a specific hobby or personal project like painting, drawing, woodworking, etc.
- Give yourself permission to splurge on a holiday gift for yourself
- Practice some form of physical exercise like yoga or running which releases endorphins and acts as an antidote to depression
- Remember that crying is self-care and compassion
4. Get Support
Don’t be afraid to reach out for support if you are struggling. There are many people including friends and family who would be willing to support you if you reached out. In case you are alone and have no one to reach out to, try some of the suggestions below.
- Connect with other people who are struggling. I am part of this grief support group and this one, but you can search online to find a group that suits you.
- If you can, connect with a grief therapist who can hold space for you to process any emotions that arise.
“The healing power of even the most microscopic exchange with someone who knows in a flash precisely what you’re talking about because she experienced that thing too cannot be overestimated.”
— Cheryl Strayed
5. Perform Mourning Rituals
Mourning rituals have always helped me connect with my mother and spending part of the holiday season practicing rituals to honor your loved one might generate feelings of connection. Here are some ideas you can try.
Make A Difference/Volunteer:
- Adopt a family in memory of your loved one through goodwill, the salvation army, or your local church.
- Buy a gift you would have given to your loved one and donate it to a local charity.
- Pick out some of your loved one’s belongings and gift them to friends and family who will appreciate them.
- You can also use the holiday season as an opportunity to donate some of your loved one’s things to a shelter or other charity.
- Make care bags for your local hospital and include things like small juice bottles, snacks, socks, lip balm, cards, puzzle books, etc., and donate in memory of your loved one.
Special Holiday Projects to Honor Loved One
- This one is ambitious, but you can buy a living Christmas tree and plant it in your loved one’s memory. You can also just buy a plant.
- Make a decorative quilt using your loved one’s favorite colors and fabric.
- Send holiday cards or just messages to friends of your loved one who you have been out of touch with.
- Make a memorial ornament or wreath using whatever creative outlet you prefer e.g., glassblowing, crocheting, etc.
- Create a memory box and fill it with photos and other little trinkets and symbolic objects of your loved one.
During the day of the holiday
You can start some new traditions on the actual holiday to honor your loved one, and feel as though they are with you and you can still celebrate with them.
- Schedule time in the day to perform a small ritual in memory of your loved one. For example, you can set aside time to share memories and read a poem you wrote.
- Play your loved one’s favorite holiday music.
- Create a memorial table and include things like a candle, pictures from past holidays, and a memory box that family and friends can fill with notes. You can ask children to put in drawings.
- Include a bouquet of flowers on the holiday table in their memory.
- Watch their favorite holiday movie.
- Hang a stocking for them and include an ornament representing them on the tree.
- Visit the cemetery and decorate the memorial site.
- Include a dish they loved in the holiday menu.
- Raise a glass of their favorite drink in their honor during the meal.
6. Opt out of the holiday
If things become too overwhelming and you find that the discord between your feelings of sorrow and the vibe of joy and festivity is too much for you to handle, please give yourself permission to take a break this year. The holidays will come around again next year. If you decide to opt-out, use the suggestions in this article to create a plan.
- Try not to be a martyr. Honor your feelings and communicate with people when you need support.
- It’s ok to be depressed and break down. Try not to beat yourself up if that happens.
- Give yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling. It is ok to be the only sad one in a sea of good cheer.
- Be gentle with yourself. Try to set aside time to tune into your needs and meet them through self-care and soothing.
Remember that you will get through it. Soon enough January will be here and all the decorations will come down.
Just take it one day at a time.
Do what feels right and nourishing for you.