Amidst the jingle bells, holiday chuckling, feasting, and visits to decked out malls people are suffering. They may not look like it from the outside, but inside they’re struggling because someone they love (not loved, I am not making a grammatical error but recognizing a continued relationship) is no longer with them. To be blunt, someone they love is dead. It might have happened this year or maybe several years ago, but that’s not important. What’s important is recognizing the holiday season often reminds them someone they love will not be with them for the celebrations.
I’m not writing this to bring everyone down and take the Santa Clause out of your holiday cheer, but I want to share some things for those of you feeling the loss of someone you love to help you find meaning and purpose in the holiday season. I’m not asking you to put on a smile and pretend all is well, I’m hoping to provide you with some things to do to allow the holidays to continue to be meaningful.
The first thing you can do is accept the new face of your holiday celebrations. That new face no longer includes the person who died. When a death is fresh this is particularly important because subconsciously we still believe our loved one will come through the door and everything we experienced about their death was nothing more than a bad dream. Accept the fact your loved one is no longer with you on this earth. The acceptance of the reality of death allows you to begin the mourning and grieving process. Remember, grief is a normal reaction to the death of someone we love. Grief is healthy, not pathological (at least when the process progresses as it should) so allow yourself to grieve. If you don’t feel like celebrating with any great fanfare don’t. Someone you love is not with you and its okay to take the time to accept that reality. Yes, whether we like it or not, the holidays will never be the same but that doesn’t mean they have to be worse than before, just different.
Once you’ve accepted things aren’t the same and you’re allowing yourself to feel the pain of loss you can begin to adjust to holidays without your loved one present. This means you have to change how you celebrate the holidays. I know that word “Change” scares us, but it really is something everyone has to do at different stages in life. Change doesn’t have to mean totally rearranging your life so you have no connection to the past, but it does mean thinking of ways to participate in the holiday season differently. It might mean spending the holiday with family or friends you haven’t engaged in the past because you were doing specific things with your loved one. It might mean the Christmas meal isn’t at your house. Maybe this year your younger son or daughter should host the Christmas Eve celebration. Perhaps you don’t put up a big tree that required two of you to put together but rather you buy a smaller tree you can decorate with a mix of old and new decorations. Whatever you choose to do, it has to allow you to adjust to participating in the holiday in a modified way. What you shouldn’t do is NOT participate in the holiday. It might be very simple and it might mean spending more time by yourself, but don’t retreat from the world, find ways to engage it. Little by little continue to live your life without your loved one.
If you remember I started this discussion by saying people are feeling a loss of someone they love this holiday season not someone they loved (past tense). That’s important because we must remember we continue to have an ongoing relationship with people even after they die. I don’t mean just spiritually (although I certainly believe that as well) but psychologically. Because this relationship continues you need to make modifications to your participation in the holiday that respects and memorializes your continued connection to the deceased. While we have to accept change and make changes we also need to maintain continuity to the past. You want to emotionally relocate the memories of your loved one to a place of dignity and honor. It might mean during the holidays you place a picture of them right by the holiday tree with a candle. I’ve known some people who to take clothing from the deceased and turn it into a special blanket they use during the holiday seasons to feel the presence of their loved one surrounding them at this special time of year. Some people even set a place setting for the deceased individual at the holiday meal or perhaps your memorialization consists in just mentioning them at the dinner table before you eat together again as a family. The key is to find a way to remember your loved one with honor, particularly this time of year. Allow yourself the gift of memories, life is made of them and they should be celebrated even when we are still in the mourning process.
I know this time of year is tough. I’ve lost people I love and their memory always comes back to me during Christmas. My father, grandparents, and even some friends have become a part of my past and are no longer a part of my present. Yet during this Christmas time I still can hear their laugh, see them holding a glass of their favorite wine or beer conversing with one another, and making merry at this special time of year. Sometimes a tear comes upon my face but ultimately I know I’m a better person because they were in my life and I celebrate that important fact. However you have to do it, take the time to have a merry Christmas even if that means you need some time to shed a tear or two in honor of the friends and family who may not be with you in person but are surely with you in spirit.