How To Handle The Holidays After The Loss Of A Loved One

I am no stranger to loss. I lost my best friend when I was a sophomore in high school, my baby when I was three and a half months pregnant, my dad in 1999, and my mom four years ago.

Though my case might be extreme, let's face it: By the time we reach the midcentury mark, most of us aren’t strangers to the loss of a loved one. So how do we deal with our grief during times like the holidays — a period that's supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year"?

We can control how we process our loss.

During a time of togetherness and social gatherings, a sound, a holiday decoration, or a family ritual might trigger one's memories of a loved one who has passed away. A flood of emotions might overwhelm some of us, and our hearts might sink as we're overrun with sadness.

My father died on December 10, 1999, and his unexpected passing actually brought my family together that holiday season. We were all in a state of shock over losing him, but at the same time we shared gratitude for lives still lived and loved ones still here.

Here are five things that helped us overcome the grief of that holiday season. May they help you do the same:

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1. Remember that each family member might cope differently.

We all have unique ways of handling grief. Remaining sensitive to how other members of your family are dealing with the situation, while also caring for your own needs, can help your time together go more smoothly.

While this can be difficult with all the distinct personalities in every family, the more we can see the humanness in one another, the more we can allow space for others to grieve in their own way — even if it's totally different from ours.

2. Set aside some time to do something in remembrance of your loved one.

Write them a letter, share their memory with others, or do something that you used to do together. My two daughters and I have made chocolate pecan pies — a pie that my mom baked for the holidays — every year since her passing. It's a sweet reminder of her love for baking and the joy she derived from sharing good food with others.

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3. Allow yourself to feel whatever comes up, whether it is joy, anger, or sadness.

I remember feeling great sadness after my father’s passing that December, but I also remember laughter as my family and I shared stories and experiences with one another. We felt gratitude for the ability to be together to authentically remember him.

4. Create a new ritual or tradition in honor of your lost loved one.

Light a candle, write a poem, or have a moment of silence. My father was a handyman who could make anything with his hands. One year, he crafted a wooden star complete with lights that my parents then hung outside their home each holiday season. When my father passed away, my mother gave the star to my family, and every year since we have placed it high in a tree in our front yard. It has become not only a wonderful ritual for my family but for other families in the neighborhood as well.

The star is highly visible on our street, and many of our friends look forward to seeing it welcoming them home for the holidays each year. This, too, is a wonderful tribute to my father; a man who spent so much of his time acting as a light to others.

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5. Be kind to yourself.

Get some exercise, write in a journal, take a long bath, or treat yourself to something special like a massage. My self-care routine involved long walks alone in nature, where my feelings could move through me freely and I didn't have to worry about how they might appear to others. Nature allows us to be ourselves, creates a space for healing, and nourishes us with her energy when we are weary.

We can control how we process our loss. Do we become closed down or do we move forward with an open heart? Do we feel the pain and move through it to become whole again?

When I look back on the challenges and losses I have faced in my life, I know that they have all made me who I am today, in this moment. I have grown in ways I could not have imagined, and my heart is filled with gratitude for being able to share this life with the loved ones who have gone on before me.

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