Grief and the holidays: 5 ideas for survival
I have heard many different strategies for “getting through” the holidays, from my counseling clients, from friends, from family. There is a narrative that hangs low over the coming days that says “Look out. This will be terrible, devastating, more than you can handle.” As it turns out, that may not be true, and the difference seems to be in the freedom to make your own choices about how to “do” the holidays.
The reality is that it will be different, but every day is already different, and you make choices, sometimes tough ones, about how to handle each one already. Here are some of the choices that my people have used, and what they have said about the result:
Sign on for a group trip experience, so that everything will be different, on purpose. With new people, new setting, new experience, they say, the stakes go down. You survive, may have some fun, at least you outlast the predictions that the holidays will defeat you. And you have a story to tell when asked about how you spent them.
Go to the usual family or family-of-friends celebration that you and your loved one used to attend together. If you go, go with your loved one very much in mind, and welcome every mention, every remembrance, every expression of love that you hear. If it is a group that fears such a mention, you start, to give them permission. If these are co-grievers, you can welcome them to grieve with you.
If you don’t have ready folks to spend the holiday with, then do some good works by volunteering for a soup kitchen or stint at a shelter, or other opportunities like a group dinner at church for others who seek company. You will go in feeling lonely, people tell me, and leave as part of a loving little pop-up community.
Or maybe you are rich with a small group of loved ones who are grieving as hard as you are. Then you can plan together a simple day that leaves plenty of room for remembrance – an empty chair at the table, a basket for everyone to write down a special memory that can be read out loud, a prayer or song that was his or her favorite, or just storytelling that naturally wells up and hopefully includes foibles and quirks that all of you know so well. This, I’m told (and have experienced) can be a gift.
If you are sure that the best thing for you to do is to spend the day alone, let that not be a tragedy, but a transition experience. You know yourself pretty well, but you may underestimate yourself as you grieve. Perhaps you can construct a positive, intentional holiday for yourself, filled with things you value. Make it different from other days, but include as many of the things that lift you up as you can – music, poetry that means something to you, some bodily pleasures like a brisk walk or sitting in front of the fireplace with a book. Go to a movie, the zoo, the arboretum, the cemetery, People report satisfaction at having done the holiday their own way.
My best tip for any and all who grieve: Write a letter to yourself about what life is like today, good and bad. Include both your fears and your hopes for the coming year. Save it where you can find it in a year to see what the year has brought you, and what you have brought to yourself. Best wishes for whatever choice you make.