Katherine Ward: A letter to those dreading the holidays
If you’re struggling with the loss of a loved one, the holiday season is one of the worst times of the year for you.
Whether your grief is new or not, I know that the high expectations and elevated merriment of the weeks to come can be overwhelming, and you aren’t sure how to cope with that. I completely understand where you’re coming from, and I hope that the things I have to say next will help you in some way.
First, it’s okay to recognize the fact that the holidays will never be the same. However, in recognizing this unfortunate change, be sure to also take time to still try and enjoy yourself by figuring out what it is that you can and cannot handle.
For example, traditions is a massive part of the holiday season. If you want to keep certain traditions, do so. But if you need to let certain traditions go, do so. Or if you want to create a new tradition in honor of your loved one, do so. Whatever it is, do the things that give you a sense of joy and purpose, but get rid of the things that don’t.
Spending special time with family and friends is another one of the greatest privileges of the holiday season. It’s wonderful to create new memories that will last long after the ball drops on the new year. However, don’t plan to attend every social gathering if you aren’t up for it. Only attend the ones that really hold significance for you, and only attend them if you feel okay enough to do so. Remember that you’re not required to put aside your grief for the pleasure of others, and that you should never feel guilty if you’re not willing to do something. Do what works best for you.
And perhaps the most often thing we forget to do? Practicing self-help and seeking the help of others. The holiday season especially can put us grievers in a funk. With all the chaos that comes with this time of year, it can be extremely difficult to remember that help of any kind is important. But it absolutely is. So spend quiet time each day doing whatever helps you to re-charge, or, if you need someone to help out with a task, just ask them. Having help can provide a huge relief.
Secondly, you should know that the loss of your loved one doesn’t have to be just a negative experience. Instead, try coming up with some ideas that could be done in memoriam for them as a way to keep them alive.
For example, you could put your creativity to good use by making a memory box filled with special items that you and your family and friends can share together when you gather. Or, you could make a decoration, such as an ornament or a wreath, in honor of your loved one. Sometimes reliving the good times or simply keeping your hands busy is enough.
If you aren’t the creative type, you could recapture your loved one’s spirit by playing their favorite holiday music, setting a place for them at the table, having a moment of silence during prayer, or buying a gift that you would have gotten them and donating it to charity. Your loved one is still with you not only through their legacy, but also through you and your actions.
Or, since you’ll most likely visit your loved one at some point, you could even bring something for them to the graveyard, such as a grave blanket, fresh poinsettias, or any other holiday item that would be meaningful. It’d probably mean the world to them, but more importantly, it’ll make you feel better, too.
Most of all, though, above anything else, you should know that it’s okay to be happy. It doesn’t mean that you miss your loved one less or that their absence is insignificant, so don’t feel guilty.
Odds are, your loved one would want nothing more than for you to be filled with joy and peace. And you deserve to be. Please believe that.
Katherine Ward lives in Salisbury. She is a freelance healthcare content writer specializing in mental health and grief.