The holidays will never be the same after you lose someone you love. Especially if it was an immediate family member. Many people completely abandon the traditions of the past and unapologetically do things diﬀerently the first few years after the loss. One woman told us that she couldn’t stand the thought of being in the house over Christmas so she used the money she would have spent on gifts and took the family away from the house and all the memories. They spent a few days on the beach just walking and listening to the waves.
If you have been the host or hostess for family gatherings for many years, please consider allowing someone else to take over for a year or two. You’re likely not in a position to handle all the pressure—on top of all the grief—and most people will understand that this is not the time to try to keep up the traditions of the past.
If you do attend a family gathering, make sure you park so you can leave without asking a few people to move their cars. That way you can slip away without bringing a lot of attention to yourself. Just quietly let the host or hostess know that you need to leave. If you have grieving children, make a special code with them so they know they, too, have an “exit strategy.”
Try to think of a way to honor your loved one. Even if you’re just going to the family gathering for Thanksgiving, ask the people attending to say a favorite memory about the person that passed after you say the blessing. Or, create a place they can write down a favorite memory on a piece of paper and read them aloud after the meal. You might also consider leaving an empty seat at the table in memory of your loved one.
If it’s Christmas, you might create a special tree in honor of your loved one and ask people to bring an ornament that person would have enjoyed. You can put it up year after year using these and other ornaments that you already have that remind you of them.
Other ideas for navigating the holidays include spending time serving people less fortunate than you are. One man told us he and his family took supplies to a shelter and served the Christmas meal instead of being at home where the reminders made it hurt so much.
Light a candle and have a moment of silence during the meal in honor of your loved one. Give a framed photo of your loved one as a gift to people who also miss them.
Select a few items that belonged to your loved one and give them as gifts to friends and family members.
Put up their stocking. One woman said it had been seven years since her son passed and she still places it on the mantle. “He’s there in spirit with us.”
Give yourself permission to feel sad during the holidays. Even cry in public. There will be triggers all around you and you may find yourself sobbing at the sight of your loved one’s favorite food or a gift you think they would have enjoyed.
The holidays are going to be hard. There is no doubt about it. Try to focus on the reason for the season. And just do what you feel like doing.