When we think of the holidays, most of us remember time spent with family, making memories and enjoying the season. But when you’ve lost a loved one, the holidays can bring back feelings of grief and sorrow. If you’re dealing with death this holiday season, here are four things to help you cope.
1. Let yourself grieve
“I remember the first time we sat down for Thanksgiving dinner after grandpa died. We all came around the table to sit, but before we could sit down mamma and grandma were both in tears. It was hard to enjoy the meal without grandpa seated at the head of the table. As I’ve grown into a woman with children of my own, I still miss him – and mamma still cries sometimes. But we’ve learned that it’s important to talk about our special memories of him and what it was like at Christmastime when he would put the tree up, or the way his eyes would light up when his grandchildren opened their presents.”
It’s natural to grieve, and the holidays can be especially hard. Sometimes it might feel like they take you right back to the day you lost your loved one, and that’s ok. Let yourself grieve. Some families find comfort in going through old photos and talking about the special memories and holidays you spent together. Grief shared is grief diminished, so always try to find someone to talk with about your feelings.
2. Hang a Special Ornament
Sometimes we need to create a special tribute or dedicate a certain item in our home to remembering our loved one. Make or have a special ornament made that you can hang up every year. It’s a great way to honor your loved one each holiday season.
If you don’t have a tree or a place to hang ornaments, consider another special decoration that you can put up every year in their memory. It could be a piece of artwork, a holiday quilt, or even some holiday dinnerware.
“Years after he died, my family decided to put together a book of stories – meaningful events that we remembered about our life with him. Each member of the family hand-wrote two or three memories into the same journal. When it was done, we wrapped it up and gave it to grandma. It still sits on her coffee table every year at Christmastime.”
3. Pull Out Their Signature Recipes
“Everyone knew what Grandpa loved: rum cake drizzled with icing, a giant slice of pumpkin pie covered with whipped cream, and Grandma’s gravy… on everything else. Each year the flavors of the season remind us of the love we felt when he was around, and the love that is and always will be in our hearts for him. “
Whether it was a pumpkin pie recipe or Grandma’s gravy, many of us remember dishes our family made with fondness. If your loved one had a signature dish they cooked, baked, or just really enjoyed, the holidays are a great time to recreate it with your whole family. Together you can remember all of the good times spent around the table with your loved one.
4. Make New Traditions or Carry on the Old Ones
“We still have strong family traditions that mamma has carried on from her childhood. Grandpa especially loved setting up the manger scene that grandma hand-painted, and getting out the big Christmas characters that sang and danced when you walked by. Each year there is a giant, bright tree in the living room decorated with beautiful bows and ribbons that Grandma sets up.”
There were probably a lot of traditions you shared with your loved one. You might find you want to carry on some of these on as a kind of legacy or you might want to start new ones. Either way, traditions can be a great way to remember your loved one, and memories of them will no doubt influence both old and new traditions in your family.
Dealing with death during the holidays
Dealing with death in the holiday season can be very difficult, but it’s important that you find some way to cope. Don’t hide your grief or pretend it’s not there. Grief shared is grief diminished so look for ways to connect with other loved ones to talk about your loss.
You might also want to find a grief group in your community to find others who are also dealing with death. These groups can help provide the support system you need over the holidays.
“It’s really helpful for my family that we have each other to talk to. Grief comes at unexpected times, but not everyone has a build-in support system. Take advantage of grief groups or church groups in your community, or just phone a friend… it really helps just to have someone who will listen.”