The holiday season is a time of great celebration, but if you have recently lost someone who was very close to you, the holidays can be painful and hard to endure. You are grieving, yet everyone expects you to join in the good times.
Similarly, if you lost a loved one at a holiday time in a previous year, the season can be a difficult challenge for you ever thereafter.
If this describes you, remember first that it is perfectly okay for you to have conflicting feelings and ups and downs. Trying to suppress or mask your grief doesn’t help, as it will surface eventually. Fully experiencing your feelings is the best way to work through them.
A safe and effective way to work through your grief and find a way to enjoy the celebrations again is by using your journal.
Gather mementos from past holidays you shared with your loved one. Photos and letters, recipes or newspaper clippings, favorite ornaments, jewelry, or knick-knacks. If they’ll fit, tape or glue one or two of these into your journal. Your journal is You, and your loved one is a part of You.
Make a list of holiday events and traditions that you shared with your loved one. For at least some items on your list, delve deeply into the memory, recalling and writing out even small details: the arch of Grandpa’s eyebrow as he looked at you across the Thanksgiving table; the funny little song Mom used to sing when she was decorating the Christmas tree; the way your older brother would always have to be the one to light the candles.
Describing these memories will likely be painful, and you may become highly emotional as you write in your journal. If so, take your journaling in small doses, writing just a little bit every day until it gradually becomes easier. Give yourself license to cry and vent as much as you need.
Reflect on which holiday traditions that you used to share are ones you want to continue, and which you want to drop. Find one or two that will gently reunite you with your lost loved one; but don’t feel constrained to cook that big dinner or attend those parties if you’re not in the mood.
Also journal about your thoughts and expectations for the holiday season. Make a plan that’s manageable and specific. Consider ways to honor your loved one through the holidays, without risking emotional melt-down. Give to charity in their name, for instance, or share time with a mutual friend or a family member who is also grieving. Spend the day listening to carols instead of going to parties; or assume responsibility for cooking that turkey, even though you’ve never done it before, just because Dad always did it.
Having faced your grief gently in your journal, and having made a reasonable plan for your holiday, you’re much better prepared to handle your emotions as they arise in this most sensitive season.
When it’s over, of course, reflect on your experiences in your journal, look back at the mementos you taped in the book, and find a new strength and confidence through the continued relationship with your loved one that you’re able to sustain by journaling.