By Susan Drevitch Kelly
Life Transition Coach

The holiday season has begun. There are signs of it everywhere you go – the decorations, music, shopping sales, and all the holiday festivities with family and friends. And yet, this is one of the most difficult and challenging times of the year to get through in the absence of your loved one.

When you’re grieving, it’s hard to feel like celebrating anything. And your mind does a great job of reminding you of what used to be. The usual holiday traditions and rituals you developed over time with your loved one are now over. Fond memories of the past will remind you that things are not the same, and never will be quite the same.

Celebrating the holidays without your loved one is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing. During this time of the year, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with all the invitations, shopping, preparations, and to-do lists swirling in your mind, not to mention all of the questions, thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. Let’s look at some of the steps you can take to help you get through the holidays:

Step 1 – Acknowledge and Accept: The holiday season will never be quite the same without your loved one, and will likely be a painful, challenging, and difficult time of the year. Accept that it will create strong emotions for you.
Step 2 – Feel: Honor your feelings and emotions, whatever they are. No one else will feel what you feel, in the same way, with the same intensity. Your grief is unique to you, and so are your feelings.
Step 3 – Express: Find a way to express and release whatever you are feeling so they can move from within you to outside yourself. Search for a way that works best for you: talking to a “grief buddy,” journaling, writing a letter to your loved one, sitting in a quiet place alone, taking a walk along the beach. Don’t suppress your feelings just to keep everything feeling “normal” for your family and friends.
Step 4 – Plan: This is a really important step in getting through the holidays. Without a plan, you will just go through the motions and acquiesce to the expectations of family and friends.
Decide on What? Where? Who? How? When? Remember that this is your plan; there is no right or wrong way to celebrate. Determine what you would like to do, and what you prefer not to do. How will you celebrate? Perhaps this first year, you will pass all together, or perhaps just join everyone for dessert and coffee. Maybe you keep things small. Perhaps you go out this year, or do take-in. The choice is yours.
Step 5 – Take Charge: Steps 4 and 5 are inseparable. Your loss was beyond your control. But this is a good time to reevaluate the holiday traditions and expectations of who hosts, who cooks, desserts, decorations, and all the rest of the routine and ritual that comes with the holidays. Don’t be afraid to make changes. Perhaps there are some traditions or responsibilities that you want to skip.
Step 6 – Inform: Let family and friends know your desires on how you would like to celebrate the holidays. Don’t feel pressured to change your plan so that your family won’t be disappointed. Decide what’s best for you this year.
Step 7 – Let Others Help: Don’t feel guilty saying “Yes” to offers of help. You don’t need to do everything yourself, all the things you’ve always done. And don’t overcommit while you are grieving. It’s okay to say “No.” Your family will understand. The holiday season has its own built-in stresses and demands, and so do grief and loss. When layered together, it is easy to experience physical and emotional overload and feel quite overwhelmed. Be gentle with yourself – you are still healing.
Step 8 – Remember: You can find great comfort in finding a special and meaningful way to honor the memory of your loved one. You might wear, carry, or use something that reminds you of your loved ones. Consider creating a new and special ritual of remembrance. It can be a prayer, a special toast, or the lighting of a memory candle.

You have experienced a profound loss. Your life has been changed forever. And, yes, the holidays will never be the same. But it is also a perfect time to take pause, reflect, and honor, with great gratitude and thanksgiving, all of love shared and memories created with your loved one.