Grief seems to come out strongly around the holidays. All of the traditions, parties, and memories are being made, but it is different when we are grieving. Grief is a loss of someone or something you held dear to your heart. You may be grieving over someone who has recently passed away. Or, you may be grieving that you are not able to be with your whole family for the holidays. It may be that traditions are changing this year and you are grieving the way things have always been done and wonderful memories past. This may be a last Christmas with a loved one. It is one that you are cherishing and trying to hold on to. Grief comes in different forms. For me, I am able to put my grief on a shelf, but it seems to reopen around Christmastime.
My Own Story of Grief
I have had several Christmases filled with grief. My baby sister, Kristi, died 11 years ago today. I still remember vividly the night she passed. I remember the lights of the Christmas tree, the snow on the ground, the chill in the air. While others were making holiday memories, I was numb and empty. How could I celebrate this precious holiday approaching when the grief was so heavy on my heart? While others were planning parties and memories to be made, my family was planning a funeral and cherishing the memories we had already made.
Lessons I Learned Through My Grief
One of the most difficult parts was trying to honor my other family members who were also grieving in the way that they needed to grieve. What I learned is that we each have a unique way of grieving and one is not more important than another. I tend to put myself to the side and care for those around me. I did just that over the several days after Kristi’s death. I hung up people’s coats and got warm beverages for those who came to visit my mom and dad. I talked with the local newspaper and took phone calls so my mom could be supported by her friends who came by her side.
After a few days, I realized that I hadn’t processed what had happened. I finally went home and took a shower. I sat on the floor of the shower and let the water trickle down my face. And that’s when I let it all out. I cried, I wailed. I was in agony with sadness. It felt so good to have the water wash away my tears.
After that day, I just tried to make it through until Christmas had come and gone. Some family members wanted to come together and talk about memories of my sister. I didn’t want to. I wanted to process everything in my own way. It was hard for me to talk about my sister. All I wanted to do was retreat to my own home and quietly celebrate and remember the life of my sister and the memories that we made.
I share all of this because I want you to know that I get it. I understand grief, especially around the holidays. Read on to learn how you can remember and cherish your loved one. Read on to learn how you can process your feelings while still being able to enjoy the coming holidays.
Step 1: Process
This is one of the most important steps. Whether you are trying to process your feelings of loss of a loved one or just the loss of a favorite tradition that is not happening this year, it is very important to process your feelings. Take some time alone and reflect on the memories that you had made. Acknowledge your feelings. You may need to say, “I feel sad because __________. I wanted _____________ to happen, but it is not going to work out that way.” It helps to say it out loud or to write it down in a notebook. For me, I am sad that my sister will not be with us celebrating the Christmas holiday. If it helps, let your tears come out.
Step 2: Reflect on the Memories
Remember the fond memories that you created with the loved one. Look at old pictures. Touch tangible items from memories made. Call a friend or family member who knew the loved one and talk about special memories you had with your loved one. If you are grieving the change to a family tradition or someone not being able to attend your holiday gathering this year, the same steps apply to you. Process your feelings and then reflect on the memories made.
Step 3: Create a New Memory
This is a very important part of the process. Things are different this time around. It may not be going the way that you anticipated or wanted it to go, but it’s okay. Create new memories. If a loved one cannot make it home for Christmas, celebrate Christmas on a different day that works for everyone. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one who recently passed, start a new tradition to remember them during the holidays. If your son isn’t able to make Christmas cookies with you this year, invite a friend over and make cookies together. Throw on some music, pull out your favorite recipes and bake away!
How to Honor Your Loved One’s Memory
For those of you grieving the loss of a loved one who recently passed, here are some special ways to honor your loved one:
- Buy an ornament every year and hang it on your Christmas tree. Every year, I buy an ornament and have the year and a special message engraved. I cherish those ornaments so much! This particular ornament caught my eye as it reminds me so much of my sister and her strong faith. When she said she would pray for me, she did.
- Place a candle in the window and let it shine throughout the holidays. The candle is a beautiful reminder of the loved one or memories that you once made. Let it bring a smile to your face every time you look at the beautiful light of the candle.
- Wear a locket around your neck with your loved one’s picture in it. My sister’s best friend came over to my house late one night a few days after my sister passed away. Terri gave me a beautiful silver locket with my sister’s picture in it and her name engraved on the locket. I still cherish that necklace to this day. That gift is one that I treasure so much as I try to keep my memories of my sister alive as I share them with my children.
- Watch old movies with your loved one in it. I love watching my wedding video because it has my sister in it, beaming as she walks down the aisle as my maid-of-honor.
- Look at pictures of memories past.
- Create a photobook with comments on the pictures.
- Do something kind and generous for another person in memory of your loved one.
For more ideas, check out these websites:
- Remember Loved Ones at Christmas
- Ways to Remember Loved Ones During Christmas
- Huffington Post: Remembering Loved Ones
Let this Christmas season be one of new beginnings for you. Let the past memories be cherished and the new memories embraced with love and acceptance. Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with others as you navigate the changes this season brings. Embrace your feelings, but continue to move forward so you can enjoy the special meaning of the holidays.