The weeks leading up to the holidays are filled with visual cues and smells that can touch memories you thought were safely tucked away in your heart. Social media, television, and movies containing pictures and sound bites of families gathering together, may serve as constant reminders of what you will not have this year.
Holiday music flows throughout the sound systems of offices, restaurants, shops, and department stores. Hearing a song that was once meaningful, you may find yourself crying in the aisles of the market, as you pick out the ingredients to make the favorite dessert of the person you are grieving.
You may decide to sidestep places that you know will elicit memories and emotions that you are not ready to experience. When that is unavoidable, remember to take some deep breaths, call someone that you can safely share your feelings with, or find a moment to be alone.
During the holidays, having a plan (even if the plan includes the option to change that plan at the last minute) can be helpful. Celebrating with yearly traditions and reminiscing may bring a sense of warmth for some, while doing things in completely new ways will be comforting for others.
The members of your family or community may be grieving and experiencing the holidays in very different ways. Sometimes grievers forget to speak to one another. Let your family and friends know what you need to get through this time. And listen to them too. You just may find a common ground of shared healing. Remember, children who are grieving can also be invited to share in conversations and decision-making.
After the holidays, when all the decorations are put away, the music stops, and guests go home, your heart may be filled with memories, joy and comfort. On the other hand, the tremendous letdown that follows can be surprising. You may instead be experiencing an indescribable sadness and hole in your heart when it all abruptly comes to an end. It can be helpful to reach out to others for support and have planned activities throughout the month of January.
Most importantly, there is no correct way to move through the holidays when you are grieving. It’s okay to feel sadness and joy at the same time, to remember and honor your loved one, and to laugh and cry.
Remember to be kind to yourself before, during and after the holidays. Grief can be challenging, even many years later.
May you find meaning, warmth and comfort this holiday season.
RANDI PEARLMAN WOLFSON, MA, LMFT
Clinical Coordinator of Adult Programs and Volunteer Trainings