The Holidays, with their seemingly blind obsession with being “Holly Jolly”, can be especially rough terrain to navigate for those of us who are grieving.
It’s like there are ‘joy police’ hiding around every corner waiting to pounce on us if we dare to admit we’re aren’t over-the-moon happy about the Holidays. If, God forbid, we actually don’t even like (or even dislike) the Holiday season people act like we have lost our minds.
Which, really, is pretty shallow and lame — and a form of erasure that is violently painful to be on the receiving end of.
While you can’t control other people’s insistence of focusing on only the joy of the season, you can control our acts (or lack) of self-care. In fact, this is a time of year when self-care becomes even more necessary to your well-being and, over time, your healing.
With this in mind, below are 30 Ways to Honor Your Grief During the Holidays (and Beyond):
1. Allow yourself to feel your feelings without judgment or shame.
2. Protect your privacy – no one is entitled to your grief, share it only when it feels safe and you truly want to – meaning, you don’t have to tell anyone that you’re sad if you don’t want to.
3. Instead of sending cards to everyone in your address book, send them only to those nearest & dearest – or don’t send them at all.
4. Be mindful of your energy levels and need for rest — and allow yourself to rest as needed.
5. Decide if and how you want to decorate this year – go big, do things as exactly as you used to, do nothing at all – whatever feels right for you is ok.
6. Keep the Holiday traditions you want to keep, the ones that nourish you and the ones that help you feel connected to loved ones.
7. Release any Holiday traditions that feel draining, feel forced, or feel like hell to even contemplate continuing.
8. Create a new tradition that honors the memory of your loved one.
9. Make a donation to a charity your loved one supported or to a cause they cared about.
10. Donate your time to a local cause your loved one supported.
11. Visit a support group – say as little or as much as feels right for you.
12. Stay true to yourself and your own process – ignoring what others tell you that you ‘should’ be doing or feeling.
13. Be mindful of eating or drinking alcohol as an escape act – it rarely helps in the long run and the extra weight it can cause you to gain will be yet one more thing to deal with later on (my arthritic left knee can attest to this).
14. Make lists for everything, and check them regularly. Greif affects cognitive function and can make remembering extra details like who you’ve bought gifts for and such extra, extra hard. If you have a paper planner, consider using the extra space for your lists or Post-It notes (but be careful not to lose them as trying to remember what was on the Post-It you lost only adds more stress!).
15. If shopping in the stores is too stressful, buy everything online this year.
16. If shopping at all is too stressful, consider making donations in people’s names as gifts this year – or even of not giving gifts this year.
17. Stay present to how unique grief is – others who are grieving will experience it in their own way – all ways are valid.
18. ¬Decide which Holiday events will attend based on your needs – NOT other peoples’ desires.
19. When attending Holiday events, have an escape plan for if you get overwhelmed (i.e. drive yourself, alert your host/ess you made need to leave early, have taxi money in your wallet).
20. Remember that everyone’s experience is different and that it’s ok if you’re feeling joyous at times while others are completely miserable. The thing that truly matters is to respect and honors everyone’s unique journey through grief – this is especially true with family members who are grieving the same loss as you are.
21. Consider having a candle to light or photo of the person(s) who’ve passed on the table to honor their presence in your lives.
22. If you’re financially able, adopt a family or a foster child this Holiday season. You can find people in need through local churches and sometimes local restaurant / coffee shops / malls have what are known as Giving Trees as well.
23. If less financially able but still wanting to give in your loved one’s name, buy a gift your loved one would have enjoyed receiving and donate it to a shelter or Giving Tree.
24. You have permission to cry. Crying is good. Crying offers emotional release. Crying is OK. … Even if you’re in the cereal aisle or at the dinner table listening to someone share a memory of your loved one. Crying is an honest part of the human experience.
25. Asking for help is a sign of strength and trust. Ask for help as you need it from those you can trust to honor and respect your needs.
26. If you haven’t seen a therapist about your loss, this is an excellent time to consider booking that first appointment with someone. And remember, if you don’t click with a therapist, it’s ok to try someone else. Feeling comfortable and safe with a therapist is a key component of the work done there – don’t settle because you’re afraid of hurting their feelings. This is about you – not the therapist.
27. Take time to be alone this season. Time to feel your feelings, time to revel in your good memories and rail at the hurtful ones. Time to acknowledge that this sucks and isn’t fair and you wish you could have them back.
28. Enjoy the moments you’re able to relax and feel alive and happy – don’t overthink these moments, simply allow yourself to enjoy them.
29. If you need to have nothing to do with the Holidays this year, it’s ok to take a break. It’s ok to tell your friends and family that this year you are opting out of the Holidays. They may not understand and that is their journey – you get to opt out if you need to.
30. Practice gratitude for every-little-thing you can find. Have a memory of your loved one pop up that at first brings you a smile before the grief floods you? Hold on to gratitude for that smile through the tears. Gratitude has incredible healing powers.