The holiday season can pose challenges for many, especially those navigating the difficult path of grief. Personally grappling with this, I’m finding myself looking for ways to maneuver through these festivities without feeling as though they’re a personal punishment. During this time, the holiday antics seem designed to make the knots in your stomach even tighter, making the weight on your heart particularly unbearable. While grief manifests in many different ways, here are my suggestions for coping with the holidays while mourning a loved one:
Diverge From Tradition
The absence of your loved one can be overwhelming. The vacant spot at the table or attempting to recreate their favorite dishes can accentuate the loss. Instead, intentionally break from tradition. The celebration will likely feel unfamiliar without them, so make it purposefully different.
Embrace Joy Without Guilt
If the holidays provide a needed respite, a chance to connect with loved ones or a distraction, don’t feel guilty. You deserve moments of joy even amidst mourning. Grief and joy can coexist, sharing space at your holiday table and allowing laughter and tears to intertwine.
Anticipate The Unexpected
Holidays stir emotions even under normal circumstances, which these certainly are not. Grant yourself the grace to experience whatever emotions arise. Treat yourself with the kindness you would offer a dear friend and release expectations of what the holidays “should” be. Allow your feelings to unfold naturally.
I am a firm believer in the saying, “They’re never truly gone if you never stop talking about them.” Engage in conversations with and about your loved one. Carry on their memory vibrantly by participating in activities they enjoyed and allowing yourself to find joy in those moments.
This is a time to prioritize your own needs and desires. There’s no shame in putting your mental health first. Avoid succumbing to the self-destructive tendencies that can accompany grief. Expressing your feelings rather than suppressing them helps integrate your new reality and opens the door for support from others.
The holidays will never be the same without the person you’re missing, but they do not have to be as painful or as frightening as you expect them to be. For me, it’s my mother that I’m missing so profoundly. Reminding myself of these tips during this challenging time, I recognize the difficulty of following my own advice. Nonetheless, I’m trying—and sometimes, that’s all you can ask of yourself.
Summer Hampton is a graduate of the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in communication focused in culture and media. She is Poynter ACES certified in editing through the Poynter Institute, with a certificate of book publishing obtained through the University of Denver.