Songs, movies, magazines, and advertisements all tell us that the holidays are the happiest time of the year. But, for millions of people, the focus on friends and family is just another reminder of what they have lost. I am one of them. And maybe you are, too.
My beloved grandmother died just days before Christmas–I have vivid memories of a terrible Christmas Eve spent opening the gifts she had already bought. The holidays have never been quite the same for me because, amidst the joy and fun of Christmas, I can’t forget that a piece of who I am is missing.
But if you’re like me, a holiday griever, there is hope for a happy holiday season. Here are some helpful hints I have discovered for enjoying the holidays without giving in to my sadness.
Don’t feel bad about feeling good.
Feelings are like the weather—you can’t change them, but you can control how you react to them. For many people, the holidays really are the most wonderful time of the year. If you pick up some of that holiday cheer, it doesn’t mean you didn’t love your loved one enough. Allow yourself to feel pleasure instead of pushing it away.
But don’t feel bad about not feeling good, either.
Just because the holidays are supposed to be happy doesn’t mean you have to be—or that you have to be all the time. Let yourself grieve, but be sure to ask for help if you fall down an emotional hole you can’t climb out of.
When you feel broken, think about memories as part of what makes you whole.
Even though your loved one is gone, he or she is still part of what makes you you. Remind yourself of your loved one by sharing stories over a holiday dinner or making a toast in his or her memory. Trying to pretend he or she was never a part of your life will just make you feel more empty inside.
Spend time with other people.
Over the long term, isolation deepens dark moods. Accept the invitation to a few holiday parties. (You can always seek out a quiet, corner conversation if big groups aren’t your thing.) Go to dinner with a friend. If your community has been broken apart by the loss, find ways to build new relationships. Walk around a local Christmas festival. Visit a nearby holiday lights display. Allow yourself the pleasure of spending time around happy people. Sometimes happiness is contagious.
But make time to be alone, too.
The holidays can be a busy time of year. Balance time spent with others with time to recuperate and reflect. Maybe you set time aside to watch a holiday movie you and your loved one once shared. Or take a long, relaxing bubble bath. When you plan your holidays, keep in mind that extroverts gain energy from spending time with others, whereas introverts usually have to recharge after social events.
Ask for help.
There are times in every woman’s life when things are too much to handle on their own. That’s why we live in communities. Chances are, you won’t spoil someone’s holiday by asking for a listening ear or help with a meal. It might cause her a little inconvenience, but it will also show her how much you value her. That’s what friends and family are for.
Help someone else.
Sometimes the best way to overcome grief is to focus on something outside of yourself. You may not be in a position to offer emotional support, but maybe you can make a meal for someone who is hungry or visit a nursing home. Find something you can do that makes you feel competent and helpful.
What if you aren’t the one hurting?
One of the best gifts you can offer your grieving friend is an open ear. Let your friend talk without judging or offering advice, but don’t be afraid to share your own experiences. Be sure to look out for signs that your friend’s depression may be deepening.
Don’t walk on egg-shells.
Your friend may be fragile, but treating her that way will only make her feel more isolated. She may want to talk about her loss or she may want to go on with life as usual. Let her take the lead instead of staying away out of fear you’ll hurt her.
Share your thoughts, but not your platitudes.
“At least he’s not suffering anymore.” “She’s in better place.” “I know how you feel.” These statements may be true, but your friend has probably heard them dozens of times since her loss. Stick to your own, unique perspective. Maybe you have happy memories to share about the loved one. Or perhaps you can share a story of a time you overcame grief. Let your friend know you’re trying to understand by keeping the clichés to yourself.
What do you do when the holidays get you down?