Grief during the holidays isn’t easy. Here are the tools and strategies I used to shift from pain to gratitude during the most wonderful time of the year.
I remember when I went to my mom’s house for the first holiday after I lost my son, Drew. I walked in, and all his pictures were gone. They weren’t on the walls or the mantle. No pictures frames. Nothing. I freaked out. All I wanted to do was remember him and, instead, it was like he’d been erased.
I was stunned. And it occurred to me:
Will I ever enjoy the holidays again, now I carry this devastating grief?
Yes, it is possible to find hope and gratitude in the holidays again. And the best part is — you don’t have to do it alone. Here are five tips to help you, and those around you, feel better together this holiday season.
1. Face it — don’t avoid it.
This is the first step and my most important piece of advice, from personal experience.
When you lose someone, you have two choices: face the grief — or avoid it. You can run or deny or try to fill the hole with something else, but none of that will bring them back or help you heal. For me, it only prolonged the intensity of the pain. So keep the photos up. Talk about the funny memories. Communicate when it comes to the hard stuff. And most of all — don’t avoid the subject or act like nothing happened at all. And help your family understand that, too. My mom later told me she took down the photos because she thought it would hurt me too much to see them. What she didn’t know was, to me, my son’s memory is everything. Talking about these situations beforehand can be difficult but so helpful in bringing a family together to grieve.
2. Remember that grief is personal.
Now, here’s the thing. Grief is as personal as we are. It’s going to be different for everyone.
With that said, you may not want or be ready to put pictures of your loved one all over the house. And you’re completely entitled to that feeling. When you’re healing from grief, you’re the captain of that journey, and it’s your family and friends’ job to follow your lead. You may want to put up one picture, in a beautiful space in your home, so you can remember the memories when you’re ready. That’s entirely up to you. For me, letting the memories in also welcomed the healing.
3. Let the light back in.
One of the most powerful feelings that comes with grief is guilt — and it tends to strike the moment you start to feel lighter. For a long time after losing someone, you might feel guilty for smiling, thinking something’s funny, going certain places, doing certain things. The list is endless, just like the guilt. But that guilt is just a story we tell ourselves because the pain is so overwhelming.
When you’re grieving it’s so important to laugh. Laugh even if it hurts at first. Find ways to bring light-heartedness into your day. Look for reasons to smile. Laughter is something you’ll have to learn to do again, after losing someone you love, but it’s so worth it. And it’s so healing. Let the light in, again.
4. Honor the memories together.
As I mentioned earlier, honoring memories with my son is one of the biggest ways I find peace and healing after loss, even today. During the holidays, you can bring your family into this healing process, as well, so you can walk through your healing journeys side by side.
Find ways to evoke the memory of your loved one by doing something together. During the holidays, this could mean making their favorite dish or watching their favorite movie. Go for doughnuts if they loved doughnuts. Drew loved having ice cream for breakfast. So today, we sometimes have ice cream for breakfast when we want to celebrate something and feel like he’s celebrating with us. Find ways to make the memories part of your holiday traditions, and you can heal together during a season when we’re all missing someone.
5. Heal on your own.
While healing together is a beautiful thing, it’s just as important for you to heal on your own.
Grief is personal, and so much of the healing has to be done by you and for you. You have to find what works for you, and the only way to do that is to search. There probably isn’t going to be one magic healing tool that makes all the pain go away. For me, I had to learn how to release the pain from my mind, body and soul, and I used multiple alternative healings tools and therapies to help me do that: reiki, meditation, aromatherapy, Child Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT), Mental and Emotional Release Therapy (MER), Cellular Release Therapy, and more.
When it comes to the loss of a child or loved one, you have to be the captain of your healing journey. This holidays season, be the one to start the conversations. Search for new ways to heal, together and individually. The holidays can be a time of joy for you once again.