Dealing with loss during the holidays

Although everyone grieves differently, it is important that you be kind to yourself and find the best way to cope with your emotions at this intense time of year.

by Laura Orsini — 

Losing a loved one is never easy, but it is particularly difficult when the loss occurs near the holidays. Whether it has been one year or 20 years, you are likely to feel the loss much more acutely during the holiday season.

Although everyone grieves differently, it is important that you be kind to yourself and find the best way to cope with your emotions at this intense time of year. What can you do if eggnog and ho-ho-ho are just not on your radar during this festive season?

Acknowledge your feelings. Your feelings simply are. You cannot hide from them; in fact, it is unhealthy to try. Regardless of when or where they come over you, acknowledge your feelings. Give voice to them. Let the memories flood your mind. Be grateful for them, even for angry or sad emotions. However, do not dwell. There is a big difference between allowing the feelings and memories to come to you, and making a concerted effort to conjure them. Grief has no prescribed timeline; there is no right or wrong way to grieve. But by deliberately clinging to the past and refusing to allow healing to occur, you are no longer living in the present — and you risk missing the extraordinary blessings present right now.

Cry, if you need to cry. Some people have a real hang-up about crying in public, and tears do make certain folks uncomfortable. But if you need to cry, don’t stifle the urge. You may not want to begin a waterworks in the middle of a year-end review — but if the tears come unexpectedly, even in front of others, take a moment to acknowledge those feelings. Then take a couple of deep breaths and compose yourself. If you must excuse yourself from the room, do it. Everyone has experienced loss at one time or another, so you need not worry that people are judging you.

Get support. Sometimes the best thing you can do is talk to someone about your grief. Be careful, though, not to be surprised or angry if those close to you have forgotten or appear insensitive about your loss. In the busyness of the season, they are understandably caught up in their own lives. But your close friends will be there for you. If you have no trusted confidant, you might want to consider a minister, counselor or representative from your Employee Assistance Program.

Offer a prayer, blessing or good thought for your loved one. Perhaps the feelings and memories come because this person needs your help with their transition … even years after their departure. Perhaps they want to remind you of something, or offer a warning. Bless their physical presence when they walked beside you, and bless their spirit presence now. Thank them for the gift that they have been in your life.

Light a candle. Anyone who grew up Catholic is probably familiar with this one. It’s a beautiful way to acknowledge the Light of the Universe, and to be reminded that your loved one is now and always will be connected to that Light.

Leave an empty chair at the dining table. Honor your departed by leaving a literal space at the table for their spirit to join you and your family during your holiday dinner(s). You may find you only want to do this the first year, as new people and traditions arrive to fill the void in coming seasons. Know, though, that no one will ever take your loved one’s place.

Give a gift or donation in their name. You may simply not be in the shopping spirit this season. Don’t feel bad or apologize for that. Validate your needs and honor them. Perhaps rather than purchasing gifts in the traditional manner, this year you can make a donation to a charity or organization that was special to your loved one.

Write a letter to the person you lost. Grief has many faces. Sadness. Joy at the memories. Anger that we are separated from them. A great tool for healing is to write your loved one a letter, conveying to them all the emotions you are experiencing this season. If you miss them, tell them that. If you’re angry because they’re gone, acknowledge that. If there were things left unsaid, say them. Once written, you can burn the letter in a ceremony, bury it or save it until you no longer need to keep it.

Do not be afraid to talk to your loved one. Demi Moore was not the only person who talked to ghosts. Lots of us feel better if we simply speak our thoughts out loud to the departed. And make no mistake — they can hear us. They cannot talk back in the traditional sense, but if you ask your guides and their angels, you may see signs of their answers.

Begin a new tradition. Perhaps decorating the tree was always your favorite time of year with your loved one. If it’s too painful, don’t get a tree this year. Hang a special wreath instead. If you’ve always used colored lights, get clear ones this time. If Grandpa’s favorite drink was apple cider, switch to cocoa. Play different music. Visit a different church, or attend the morning service rather than the evening service this year. Invite someone new over for the holidays. There are endless ways to create new memories, even as you acknowledge your loved one and honor the old memories.

Create a memory book. Think about your loved one’s favorite holiday traditions, songs, foods, etc. Create a memory book in their honor. Look through photo albums and letters. Sketch pictures, or create a collage from magazine photos. Let their spirit infuse you as you build a memory book that honors them and provides a way for you to channel your grief.


Laura Orsini is a freelance writer, editor and marketing advisor, based in Phoenix. She lost her dad on December 31, 2005 — this piece is her way of honoring him., or 602-518-5376

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 25, Number 6, December 2006/January 2007.

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