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When a loved one dies, getting through a normal day can feel like a grueling emotional marathon. But the holidays present an even steeper challenge. The anticipation of the holiday season without your loved one can pile anxiety upon an already stressful period. You dread spending this special time of year without them and celebrations you once enjoyed may seem frivolous or pointless. Holidays also can serve as a trigger, reactivating intense levels of grief and sadness that may have been under control.
The first holiday season without a beloved friend or family member can seem overwhelming but these simple steps can help you make it through.
Make a Plan
Losing a loved one can make you feel completely out of control. The time leading up to the holiday is often spent anticipating what the holiday will be like without them and can be worse than the holiday itself. Talk to friends and family ahead of time about how to best mark the holiday so no one is caught by surprise. You may wish to continue old traditions if they provide comfort, or avoid certain customs if they seem upsetting. Some families choose to create new traditions, so that the absence of a loved one is not as obvious.
Honor Your Loved One
Bring your loved one into the holiday by continuing traditions that you shared while they were alive. You already know that life is not the same without them. Instead of trying to avoid their favorite custom because it reminds you of them, embrace the custom as a way to honor their memory. Perhaps they had a special recipe for latkes they made each year, or loved to cut their own Christmas tree. Invite others to carry on the tradition.
When friends gather for dinner, ask each to tell a favorite story about your loved one. Light a candle and keep it lit throughout the season. The flickering flame will remind you that your loved one is always part of you. If it is comforting, place a photo of your loved one amid the garland and lights to create a presence during the holidays.
Many people may have offered to help you during your time of grief. Now is the time to take them up on their offer. If you have too many cards to write, gifts to wrap or cookies to bake, let a friend ease the burden. If you feel lonely, let someone know. Otherwise, friends may assume you want privacy. On the other hand, if you feel uncomfortable attending the usual parties, don’t feel obligated to accept invitations.
If you want an alternative way to spend the holiday, consider volunteering. Helping those less fortunate is a positive way to provide balance during a dark personal time. Nonprofit organizations that help the less fortunate are especially in need of holiday help. Volunteers are needed to serve meals, provide clothing, entertainment and other support for the sick, elderly and homeless.
Take a Trip
Some people choose to remove themselves from familiar settings during the holidays. Planning a trip can provide days of distraction and take your mind off the revelry around you. Travel somewhere you have never been where you can create new memories and aren’t constantly reminded of your loved one.
Exercise and fresh air are vital to maintaining good health and a positive mood. Force yourself to get out and get moving for at least a half hour each day. Exercise can help battle the blues and work off calories from too many seasonal treats.
Embrace Your Grief
The holiday season may intensify emotions. Feelings of loneliness and despair can seem greater in the presence of parties, presents and gaiety. Allow yourself to miss your loved one and cry when you need to. Seek the additional support of a friend, therapist or clergy during times of increased sadness.