What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us. — Helen Keller
The festive season, traditionally a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness, can be an incredibly difficult period for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. While many are immersed in holiday cheer, you may find yourself grappling with a mix of emotions, from sadness and loneliness to a sense of disconnection. In this blog post, we'll explore some strategies to help you navigate the festive season with grace and find moments of comfort and healing amidst grief, helping you navigate the delicate dance between grief and celebration.
It’s OK to Not be OK
It’s important to know that it’s OK to feel more than one emotion at once. This means it’s OK to smile and enjoy the festivities, but you can also feel sad as you mourn the loss of a loved one. As humans, we have the emotional capability of feeling competing emotions at the same time. It's important to recognise and accept your emotions during this time. Grieving is a unique and personal process, and there is no right or wrong way to navigate the grieving process.
Allow yourself the space to grieve and don't feel pressured to conform to societal expectations of holiday cheer and festivities. It’s OK to not be OK.
Create New Traditions
Consider establishing new traditions that honour and celebrate the memory of your loved one. This could be as simple as lighting a candle in their honour, preparing their favourite dish, or sharing stories about them with friends and family. Creating these new traditions can help you feel a connection to your loved one during the festive season.
Continue the traditions that your loved one cherished during the festive season. Whether it’s decorating the tree, attending a particular event, or singing their favourite carols, keeping these customs alive can be a beautiful and comforting tribute.
Set Realistic Expectations
Give yourself permission to set realistic expectations for the holidays. Understand that it's okay if you don't feel like participating in certain events or festivities. Communicate your needs with friends and family, so they can offer support and understanding during this time.
Don't hesitate to lean on your support system. Whether it's friends, family, or a grief support group, sharing your feelings with others who understand can provide a sense of comfort and validation.
If you find it challenging to discuss your grief, consider seeking the guidance of a therapist or counsellor. Even though many professionals are on leave at this time, there are just as many open to provide support to those who need it at this time.
Take care of yourself physically and emotionally during the festive season. Ensure you get enough rest, eat nourishing foods, and engage in activities that bring you comfort and joy. Self-care can be a powerful tool for managing grief and maintaining your well-being, especially through a difficult season.
Set boundaries to protect your emotional well-being. If certain events or gatherings feel overwhelming, give yourself permission to decline invitations or limit your time at social functions – It is okay to leave early. Acknowledge what your needs are, prioritise these needs and communicate openly with others about what you can handle.
“As we light candles of remembrance during the holidays, we illuminate the love that still exists between us and our loved ones.” – Anonymous
Ideas and Special Ways to Honour Your Loved One’s Memory
While it’s natural to feel a sense of grief during this time, it can be incredibly comforting to find meaningful ways to honour your loved one’s memory and keep their spirit alive throughout the festive period. Here are some special and heartfelt ways to do just that:
Create a Memory Jar
Start a memory jar and encourage family and friends to write down special memories, messages, or things they are grateful for related to your loved one. Read these notes together during the festive season to feel their presence and the love they brought into your life and celebrate their life.
Create a Memory Tree or a Special Ornament
Consider setting up a memory tree in your home. This can be a separate tree or a branch adorned with ornaments, photographs, and mementos representing your loved one. Each year, you can add new items to the tree and take a moment to reflect on the beautiful memories you shared. You can design your own or purchase a special ornament in memory of your loved one.
Each time you hang the ornament or photos on your tree each year it acts as a symbol of their enduring presence and offers an opportunity to feel a connection.
Light a Candle
Candles can play an important role in both celebrations and grieving. They symbolise hope and remembrance. Light a candle in honour of your loved one during your festive gatherings. You can even invite friends and family to join in this meaningful tradition, sharing stories and memories as you do or create a designated space in your home for a memorial candle.
Cook Their Favourite Dish
Prepare a dish that your loved one enjoyed during the holidays. Make their favourite holiday meal. Instead of focusing on the empty seat at the table, fill your stomach and heart with the person’s favourite dish. It could be a family recipe or a special treat that holds sentimental value. Cooking and sharing their favourite food can feel like a way to keep their presence at the table and in your home at this time.
Give to Charity or Volunteer
You could also consider channelling your grief into helping others in need. The possibilities are limitless, a nursing or retirement home, hospice, hospital, pet shelter, soup kitchen, or assisting those less fortunate, giving back during the festive season can be a powerful way to honour your loved one’s memory, especially if it is for a cause or charity that was important to your loved one.
Plant a Memorial Garden
If you have access to outdoor space, consider planting a memorial garden for your loved one. Choose their favourite flowers or plants and spend time tending to the garden throughout the festive season, creating a living tribute to their memory.
Get creative and Create an Album or Scrapbook
Display old photos in an album or compile a scrapbook filled with photographs, mementos, and stories that celebrate the life of your missing loved one. Visitors can look through them and reminisce about the loved one who is no longer with you.
Continue Traditions and Play Your Loved One’s Favourite Music
Continue the traditions that your loved one cherished during the festive season. It may be difficult at first, but you might find watching their favourite holiday movie or listening to their favourite songs brings back memories of sharing those favourites with them.
Whether it’s decorating the tree, attending a particular event, or singing their favourite carols, keeping these customs alive can be a beautiful tribute. If they loved music, play the music your loved one enjoyed during holiday gatherings, creating a soundtrack that evokes fond memories.
Pen a Letter to Your Loved One
Take some time to write a heartfelt letter to your loved one expressing your feelings, updating them on your life, and letting them know how much you miss them. You can keep these letters in a special place or release them symbolically by burning or burying them or releasing them out to sea. This can be a therapeutic and cathartic practice.
Visit a Special Place or Their Resting Place
If possible, visit your loved one’s resting place during the holidays. Decorate their gravesite with festive decorations or flowers. Spending a quiet moment there can provide a sense of connection and peace.
Much like you put up a Christmas tree and adorn your home with festive lights, you can also add a special touch to a loved one’s memorial or headstone with seasonal décor like fresh flowers, miniature Christmas trees, battery-powered lights or laying a wreath.
A Time for Storytelling
Don't be afraid to talk about your loved one. Remembering them and sharing stories of their life is a wonderful way to honour your loved one's memory throughout the holiday season. Encourage family and friends to share stories about your loved one, fostering an atmosphere of remembrance and connection.
Host a Memorial Toast
Include a moment in your holiday celebrations for a memorial toast, raising a glass in honour of your missing loved one. A great time to do this is before you tuck into your holiday meal.
Wear a Cherished Item
When we lose a loved one it's often difficult to think about parting with their belongings. After all, objects hold memories, stories and special meaning. Wear an item of clothing or jewellery that belonged to your loved one to carry their memory with you during the festive season.
“Grief teaches us that while our loved ones may be gone from sight, they will never be gone from our hearts, especially during the holiday season.” – Anonymous
Honouring your loved one’s memory during the festive period can be a beautiful and healing experience. These special gestures not only keep their spirit alive but also remind us of the love and cherished moments we shared. While the pain of loss may never completely fade, finding meaningful ways to remember and celebrate your loved one can bring comfort and solace during the holiday season.
The most important aspect is to find a way that resonates with you personally, allowing you to honour and cherish the memory of your missing loved one in a way that brings comfort and healing.
There is no clear-cut roadmap for navigating the holidays after a loss. Grief is a unique journey, and it's okay to prioritise your well-being during this difficult time. Whether you decide to share new traditions with friends and family or continue them alone, recalling the joyful times you spent together can help you through your grief.
May anyone who has lost a loved one find moments of peace and solace as you navigate the holiday season with grace and self-love.