Stressed young woman near christmas tree

The holiday season is a festive season filled with family joy, right? There are holiday decorations, holiday songs, gifts  and so much food. With everyone referring to “the most wonderful time of the year,” how can you not feel pressure to be joyous when you experience grief during the holidays?

Well, there may come a Holiday season that could be the first time without one of our loved ones. Our first holiday season alone, as a widow, divorced or after the loss of a parent or other loved family member.

Even if we are surrounded by other people we love,  the first holiday season after a death or divorce signals that this is  not a Holiday Season as usual. For many, no matter how hefty the egg nog, there’s a dose of dread lurking under their cheer – and rightfully so.

Why Do the Holidays Make Us Lonely?

Over the years we establish family traditions that remind us of the connection we have to our loves ones. Something as simple as a loved one who always gives us the worst gift may establish an expectation, or routine, that constitutes a tradition. These traditions may seem painful and hollow if we can’t share them anymore with our loved one.

Instead, despite what we’re feeling, we get holiday cards in the mail beckoning us to “have the best Christmas Ever” or “to have a Joyous Season” and we are struck with the contrast between what we feel and what the rest of the world feels.

We want to join in the joy the rest of the world is expressing and we may try to get sucked into the activity of the season and pretend the pain away, or we may withdraw from all of it and get engulfed in our sadness.

The First Holiday After a Loss

If this is your first holiday after a loss, you may not know how you are going to manage the waves of grief that will hit you.

Here are some suggestions I have for clients that are grieving (and remember, you can always contact me or refer me to a loved one if you feel that they need help coping with their grief):

  • Release the expectations about what the holidays should be. Just because there is a cultural imperative that there should be a whirlwind of merriment and joy, it is “ok” to simplify. Do only the things that comfort you. Do what you feel capable of, and do not push yourself outside your personal boundaries.
  • Allow yourself to adapt traditions. Your loved one may have been an integral part of the traditions. Because your loved one isn’t  present does not mean that the traditions have to be fully discontinued. See how family traditions can remain and honor the memory of the loved one – like a special meal everyone loved.
  • Don’t pull away from the grief and from the memories. Let the tears and emotions engulf you when they come. But be open to the joys of the memories as well. Let yourself truly feel everything, good and bad.
  • Choose to honor your loved one in your gifting. You may want to give a gift to an organization in the name of your loved one, such as supporting a family, or donating to a clothing or food bank. Remember the spirit of this donation as you prepare your belongings for transport; it is a good, positive thing to provide them to a family in need.
  • Fill your house with live plants and greenery in order to remind yourself of the continuing of life. You may also ask to babysit children while a neighbor does their shopping, or spend time with a pet or volunteering at a shelter. Life is a cycle and it will continue, even for you, despite your sadness.
  • If spirituality is part of your life, allow yourself to connect with that bigger part of yourself. Allow the meaning of the season to infuse you and sustain you in your grief. While it is natural for many of us to be angry in our grief, it may also provide you comfort.

Be prepared for the holiday season, particularly if it is the first one after the loss of a loved one to be difficult. But know that as difficult as it is right now, slowly and gently you will reconnect with life.

Dr. Ines K. Roe has been helping women in transition rediscover themselves for over 20 years. If you’re  been feeling unfulfilled, are frustrated with your sense of accomplishment in midlife, or simply need guidance on your path to holistic well being, consider her ecourses.