Walking through the Holidays after the Death of a Loved One

Walking through the Holidays“City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style. In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas…” 

The opening lines from the holiday song “Silver Bells” can, for many, bring a touch of nostalgia and anticipation as we begin to look forward to the holiday season. However, if you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one, the holidays may represent something very different. Instead of joy and family togetherness, holidays may now bring feelings of sadness, loss and emptiness.

Memories from past holidays may simply remind us of the one who is no longer here. While the media and those around us may have the best intentions, there is simply no such thing as “10 Easy Steps…” to change the way you are feeling. However, there are some things you can do to help cope with your feelings during the holiday season.

Death ends a life, not a relationship
Memories of parties and family gatherings will always hold special meaning to you. After the death of a loved one, it is important to remember those times. Talk about the memories with trusted family members and friends. Select people who will not judge you, but rather will honor your loved one by listening to your stories and fond memories.

Create new traditions
Traditions are important, but this can be a good time to reassess which traditions you want to continue, pass onto other family members or simply let go. This is also a good time to consider creating a new tradition that will honor your loved one:

  • Light a memorial candle as part of your holiday dinner.
  • Offer a toast to the love you still cherish.
  • Serve a favorite dish in their honor.
  • Purchase a memorial ornament.
  • Donate to a charity in your loved one’s name.
  • Hang a stocking and instead of treats, fill the stocking with notes of fond memories.

Honor your faith traditions
It is not unusual to feel a renewed sense of faith, or even discover a new set of beliefs, following the death of a loved one. Take time to honor these faith practices and surround yourself with people who will support you in them.

Respect your own needs and feelings
We grieve because we love; the deeper the love, the more intense the mourning can be. The feelings you have may leave you feeling fatigued. Don’t push yourself to do everything you’ve always done. Enlist help. Take time to rest and slow down. Allow yourself to decline some of the holiday engagements that may be too demanding this year. Be good to yourself. Be patient with yourself. Love yourself, and always hold onto hope.

Penny MillspaughPenny Millspaugh is the holistic care coordinator at Altru. Penny is a certified Bereavement Coordinator, Healing Touch Practitioner(L-1) and Spiritual Director. She uses these skills, along with aromatherapy and guided imagery, to help patients and staff work through grief, anxiety and pain. In her free time, Penny loves to sing with the Twin Forks Sweet Adelines Chorus, volunteer at her church and enjoy time with her family. 

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