Grieving the loss of a loved one is a deep and difficult challenge at any time. The holiday season can magnify our sense of loss and sorrow. Seasonal events can be painful reminders of the absence of loved ones. At the same time, they can also be comforting rituals where we connect with family and friends, focusing on good memories and trying to recapture our sense of joy.
If you are mourning the loss of loved ones this season, keep these things in mind.
1. Only do what feels right
It’s up to you which activities, traditions or events you can handle. You are not obligated to participate in anything that doesn’t feel doable. Create realistic expectations for yourself and others, but above all, be gentle with yourself.
On the other hand, if holiday activities are good distractions that bring joyful feelings and good memories, enjoy a few holiday things that are comforting. Or go all out! Get out every decoration and bask in happy memories. Immerse yourself in holiday movies that always have happy endings. Allow yourself a break and socialize at holiday parties.
It’s all OK — there is no one right way to do this. All you need to do is get through the day, week or season in a healthy way that is comfortable for you. Try not to focus much further ahead than that.
2. Accept your feelings
Everyone takes his or her own path in grief and mourning. Some may try to avoid sad feelings; others will be bathed in tears. Some feel bad that they aren’t up to enjoying a holiday; others feel guilty because they are feeling joy. You may cycle through these feelings throughout each day.
Accept whatever you are feeling, as well as the inevitable ups and downs. You may feel peaceful one moment and gut-wrenchingly sad the next. All emotions are OK. If you stay in tune with your own needs, you’ll know how to get through the holidays without judging yourself or others.
3. Get support
Talk with loved ones about your emotions and mental health needs. Be honest about how you’d like to do things this year — if you want to talk about those who have died, then do so, and let others know it’s OK. If you participate in a holiday activity, let people know you may bow out quickly if it’s too much for you, and, if possible, have a friend on standby for support.
Be aware if you are sinking into depression, anxiety or complicated grief (a psychological condition that involves prolonged, very intense grief that interferes with daily functioning). Seek professional help from a physician, therapist or counselor via telehealth.