As soon as the temperature outside changes, so does the mood. You walk into your favorite department store. One aisle is throwing up Halloween costumes and candy. The next is screaming, “Happy Fall,” and, “Be Thankful.” Another is exploding with red, green, and tinsel. Every advertisement mocks you. Your childrens’ school reminds you. It doesn’t matter where you turn or walk, you are suddenly reminded that the holiday season is approaching.
For many, this is a time of excitement and anticipation. Finally, Starbucks offers pumpkin flavored drinks. Finally, you can pull the decorations out of the attic or building. Finally, you can start shopping for presents and stocking stuffers. It is a time of planning for holiday meals and company parties. A time of traditions and memory making.
But, what about the rest of us? Those of us struggling with finding holiday cheer. Those of us knowing that this year will be a little different than the last. A famous dish will be missing from the holiday meal. There will be no one to hang the lights. One less present to buy. Traditions to change or replace. A face missing in the new memories. I call it holiday grief. It is the time when everyone around you is buzzing with a holiday high, but you are struggling to find joy.
Losing someone you love is one of the hardest things you can ever experience in life. One minute they are there, experiencing life just like you and I, and the next they are gone. Some days you smile and find joy in life’s little miracles; like the birth of a baby, the marriage of a friend, or the accomplishment of a child. But other days, you find it difficult to get out of bed and conquer the day. We do OK for most of the year, but as the holidays approach, the feelings of grief and longing for that person intensify. For some of us this is the first year experiencing this feeling. For some of us, we are experiencing this for the 5th, 10th, 20th time. We find ourselves wondering if it will ever get easier. If the pain of missing that person for the holidays will ever subside.
This feeling of grief can be magnified during the holiday season. A time when family is at the heart. October, November, and December don’t decide to stop coming just because someone is missing from your life. You still walk through the department store. You still purchase the costumes and candy. You still attend the holiday parties and parades. You still wrap the presents and stuff the stockings. The routine of waking up to a brand new calendar date doesn’t change. Each calendar page turns and life goes on.
I am in year 6. I am in my 6th year of experiencing holiday grief. Of taking my kids trick-or-treating, without stopping by their grandpa’s house for candy. My 6th year of not watching my dad host Thanksgiving dinner at his house. My 6th year of my kids’ experiencing Christmas without their grandpa’s homemade potato soup. People ask me all the time if it gets easier. That each year it becomes a little less hard. Well, let me tell you, the grief still comes.
So how do you deal with the grief that comes along with the holiday season? How do you continue to smile and experience joy without one of the sources of that joy?
I honestly have no idea how to stop the grief from coming. I have no idea how to stop missing that special someone. Or how to accept he/she won’t be there for the best times of the year. But, I can tell you a few things that have worked for me over the years.
The holidays are going to come; let them.
It can be so tempting to wish the holiday season to stop coming. To dread the days ahead and do everything in your power to ignore the approaching signs around you. To close off to the world around you. Instead, try welcoming them. The holidays are supposed to be a time filled with joy and happiness. Your loved one wouldn’t want you to miss those feelings, at their expense. So get up, and get out. Walk through that department store and buy those decorations. Go have a pumpkin spiced latte in a green and red cup. Drive your car through the neighborhood and take in all the beautiful lights and decorations. Welcome the season.
Traditions NEVER die.
Families have so many traditions throughout the holiday season. From the tree – artificial or fake. To viewing Christmas lights. To those special recipes. If your loved one was in charge of cutting down the tree. Cut it. If your loved one had a famous homemade potato soup. Make it. Don’t allow the very traditions that remind you of them, to die. Continue them. Every year. Don’t allow the loss of that person to allow the loss of a tradition they loved. Keep your loved one alive, by keeping tradition.
Surround yourself with others.
Grief is different for everyone. Many times we feel no one truly understands the pain that we feel. And many don’t. We feel confused looking around and wondering how others can just go on living, while you feel like time has been at a stand still. Yes, grief is different for everyone, but everyone experiences grief. So, surround yourself with others. When dealing with the loss of a loved one, especially through the first holiday season, it is vital to be surrounded by others, especially others who are experiencing that holiday grief alongside you.
I do not have a magical formula to heal the grief that comes along with the holidays. I don’t know how to take away the random days of waking up in tears, just wishing you could call them, see them. So take a minute and think about the loved ones you have lost recently or throughout the years. Think about the life they lived and the mark they made in your life and those around them. Bottle that up. Use it to fuel up and continue the legacy they left behind. That…. Is how you find hope in the holidays.