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How to Honor Your Holiday Grief

A woman is having a lonely Christmas by herself. She sits alone and looks sad as she is all alone on Christmas. Here she sits with a blanket while looking depressed.

Biting your quivering lip through a holiday prayer… excusing yourself to the bathroom during a tradition a loved one used to enjoy… banishing the mention of certain names during family gatherings…

Does that sound familiar?

Because the holidays are such a special time for most people. 

Almost every family has a set of traditions, across the aisle and from the very religious to the totally secular.

And during the six weeks of winter where most of the Western world is putting aside their differences (or not) and celebrating each other with quality time, gifts, joint activities, memory sharing, and general revelry…

It’s a common time to feel the sting of someone’s absence as strongly as the presence of those still remaining.

First of all, it’s important to remember a few things:

  • Grief is personal and individual. 
  • Grief is not limited to death — distance, uncoupling, and growing apart are grief too.
  • There isn’t a wrong way to grieve.
  • There is no statute of limitations on feeling loss.

And here’s a big myth that needs busting: you don’t get over grief. You move forward with it. (In fact, if you have specific grief and trauma you’ve been trying to grow with, you may benefit from this course.)

You don’t have to suffer through the holidays, aching and remembering.

Today, we’re going to talk about how to honor your grief during the holidays — it’s as much a part of you as your liveliness, love, and longing is.

If it isn’t unhealthy for you to speak about your lost one, speak about them. In some cases of trauma or abuse, mentioning the name of the person in question may not be helpful to your healing. 

But if you’re worried that talking about an important person who has passed, or a person who isn’t a part of your life anymore, will be annoying, or a downer, or make you seem weak, put that away. 

Your grief and pain are alive in you always. Let the loss be alive as well. Point out what they would have loved. Tell the story of a memory that’s dear to you. Lament that they’re missing being with you and yours. 

Start a new tradition in their honor. Maybe you remember something that they loved the most about this time of year — making homemade hot chocolate, or ice skating, or watching a certain movie.

Turn that activity into a ceremony. Speak about it. Think about it. Invite people to it. Let it take on a life of its own and infuse as much of your missing piece into the new tradition as you can. Wear their favorite color, start the night off with the song they always sang. 

Plan for what you know your triggers are. If you have tried to be in church, or lighting the menorah and saying the mourner’s kaddish, or going caroling on your old route, and it’s proven too difficult for you, that’s okay.

That’s where you are right now. And it doesn’t mean it’s where you’ll be forever.

But honor how you feel and what you know won’t make you feel better. And that’s the only explanation you need to give: “This won’t help me right now.”

Tell anyone who will expect you to participate — maybe because they grieve differently — that you won’t be able to enjoy that tradition with them this year because you aren’t ready.

Reach out about where you are in your grief and ask for help. The holidays generally come with extra responsibility for everyone. Whether your grief is too recent for you to rise to the level of commitment people have come to expect of you, or you aren’t able to perform certain tasks, speaking out can help.

Not only does it let the people who love you know how they can help you, it also gives them room to speak about their own grief and limitations.

Making a batch of latkes just like you used to with someone you’ve lost might hurt too much. But when you ask for help, you may find that someone else would like to honor their grief in that way. 

Most of the time, people who love you want to make you feel better and don’t know what will. 

Sometimes, it’s just being listened to.

The holidays after or during a loss can be the darkest time of the year for a lot of people.

And it may still be, even if you follow this advice.

And that is okay too. Have sad holiday. Allow yourself to cry, to mourn, to bemoan the fates.
But don’t tell yourself to get over it or to move on. Only move with. 

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