The most wonderful time of the year can feel anything but wonderful after you’ve lost a loved one. Whether it’s your first or 15th holiday season without them, grief has a way of surfacing more intensely during this time. And when your mood doesn’t align with the expectation to be “merry and bright,” it’s natural to feel isolated — which only amplifies the grief. If you’re wondering how you’ll get through the season while feeling such heartache, we’ve got you. We asked grief counselors and those who’ve been through it for their tips.
All grief doesn’t look the same
It’s important to note that not everyone who deals with grief will feel the same way during the holidays. There may be moments of joy between the bad moments, and accepting both can be difficult. Whatever you’re feeling is okay — regardless of how long ago your loss occurred. “Grief is with us always,” says Gina Moffa, LCSW, a therapist and author of “Moving On Doesn’t Mean Letting Go: A Modern Guide to Navigating Loss.”
How to cope
We recently asked Skimm’rs on Instagram to share their advice for managing grief during the holidays. Many responses talked about giving yourself permission. “Meaning, permission to do what you want to do, to say ‘no’ to things that you think might be too triggering … to feel joy, to feel happy. Also, permission to cry if you need to,” says Sherry Cormier, PhD, a psychologist and author of “Sweet Sorrow: Finding Enduring Wholeness after Loss and Grief.”
Another tip from Skimm’rs: Prepare for the emotions that may come up. Moffa suggests coming up with a plan A, B, and C for days or events you’re worried about. Example: If plan A is attending a Christmas party, plan B might be leaving early, while plan C could be staying home. If you’re comfortable, tell the host about these plans in advance so you don’t feel guilty if you bow out at the last minute.
There are two other things worth planning: One, time and space to honor your grief. Which may look like starting a new tradition — such as revisiting a place that was special for your loved one. And two, time for yourself. It's a balance between "staying close to grief, but also taking care of yourself so that you can endure the pain a little bit better," says Luana Marques, PhD, an associate professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Some self-care activities that Skimm'rs suggest include...
"Make a bucket list of things that bring joy"
"Watch something dumb, then watch it again"
"Walks in the cold"
"Play Christmas music really loud"
If you're looking to support someone who's also struggling with grief but aren't sure how — you're not alone. “Society has not taught us how to be present for grievers or even how to grieve,” says Moffa. Her advice: be authentic and always acknowledge the loss. "Don't be afraid that you're going to remind somebody of their loss...because 100% of the time, it's on the person's mind, and they feel alone in it."
Grief is a lot of things: Unpredictable, isolating, and a never-ending cycle. Know that however you're feeling is okay — and that there are ways to get through it.
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