Grief hits at the most unexpected times. However, the holidays are a known time when grief comes back like a weight, pushing down on those who have lost children, siblings, parents, and other loved ones. It can become even more difficult when that lost loved one really loved Christmas.

However, there are some tips that can help you handle the holidays and find the joy in these celebrations for yourself, your family, and even for your lost loved one. Recently, in the above video, my daughter, Heidi, and Debbie Rambis, Executive Director of The Compassionate Friends, shared our own experiences about what has helped us cope during the holidays.

Scale Back Expectations

You may not feel like being around people and doing all the work that typically goes into planning for the holidays. And, that’s understandable. We are often harder on ourselves than others around us when it comes to setting expectations for the holidays. Instead of pressuring yourself, lower those expectations and do what feels comfortable for you. This is your grief journey.

For example, rather than baking everything, buy some pre-made items. Or, ask family members to help out by bringing those parts of the holiday meal. Communicate with others who you celebrate to let them know what you feel what you can do so they know that the holiday events may be scaled back for a while.

Now, if you are a parent with surviving children at home, there may be a need to focus on fulfilling their expectations to help them cope and feel reassured that there is something for them. This may mean putting on that game face so your children can still enjoy the idea of the holidays, including gifts and the fun of the surprise that goes with that.

Start a New Holiday Tradition

Another way to make the holidays an enjoyable time once again is to think of a new tradition to create the new version of Christmas that replaces the old one with your loved one. While others may have an opinion and not like the idea, openly communicating your wishes and involving them in creating something new may be able to soothe others’ feelings while focusing on what feels right for you.

Honor the Person

Part of this new tradition could still include the lost loved one by honoring them in some way. For example, you could create a wreath with pictures of them along with symbols that represent things they liked or did. Or, you could do a special toast to them, which includes acknowledging the loved ones that are still with you.

Lighting a candle in their name or sharing memories about them are other new traditions that can make the holidays special again for you. Some have even found that community service like serving holiday meals has helped them feel like they had a purpose again and helps them focus on the holidays as the “season of giving.”

Focus On Holiday Favorites

Make a list of the favorite things you like to do at the holidays, including those activities that your family enjoys, and cut out the other stuff that may not mean as much. This takes the pressure off you and helps focus on the things that bring some joy to the occasion.

Do Some Things On Your Own

Grief is hard work and can exhaust you on a physical and emotional level. For example, my daughter, Heidi, found it very painful to unwrap and hang ornaments that had her brother’s name on it or ones that he had made. Those painful moments often can be helped by having time alone.

That’ why it’s good to take time to yourself. This could be 15 minutes or so of quiet time in your room or some other type of downtime where you can take a break for a bit.

Ask Others

I often hear that others around a grieving person don’t know what to do or say. While it may be difficult to reach out to others at first, it does help you and them work through the grief process, especially during the holiday season when others are around and home to participate. Also, you can ask others for grief support through groups like The Compassionate Friends, a therapist, or online resources.

Do These 10 Things

With my own grief during the holiday season, I’ve found that doing these ten things have provided support and strength to get me through these difficult times. Others helped through the Open to Hope Foundation have noted they’ve seen positive changes come from doing these 10 things, too:

  1. Breathe deeply
  2. Show gratitude
  3. Get more sleep
  4. Try mindful thinking
  5. Show self-compassion
  6. Make social connections
  7. Exercise regularly
  8. Laugh as much as possible
  9. Focus on the positive
  10. Get and give hugs

A Healing Holiday

From all of us at Open to Hope and The Compassionate Friends, may you have a healing holiday season. We will never forget our loved ones as they will always be in our hearts. The holidays are a time that our memories will continue to connect us with those who have made who we are today.

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Gloria Horsley

Dr. Gloria Horsley is an internationally known grief expert, psychotherapist, and bereaved parent. She started "Open to Hope" to help the millions in the world with grief. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Nurse Specialist, and has worked in the field of family therapy for over 20 years. Dr. Horsley hosts the syndicated internet radio show, The Grief Blog which is one of the top ranked shows on Health Voice America. She serves the Compassionate Friends in a number of roles including as a Board of Directors, chapter leader, workshop facilitator, and frequently serves as media spokesperson. Dr. Horsley is often called on to present seminars throughout the country. She has made appearances on numerous television and radio programs including "The Today Show," "Montel Williams," and "Sallie Jessie Raphael." In addition, she has authored a number of articles and written several books including Teen Grief Relief with Dr. Heidi Horlsey, and The In-Law Survival Guide.

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