The holidays are a wonderful time of year for most of us, but for many who are grieving, it’s anything but. Going through holidays and other celebratory events when you’re mourning the recent loss of a loved one can be very difficult as you learn to adapt without them for the first holiday alone. Bereavement services in San Francisco and elsewhere can be a lifeline at this point, connecting you with others who are going through the same thing.

Especially if your loss is recent, you may be dreading the approach of the holiday season and wondering how you will get through it. While family members or friends may share this dread, talking about how you feel with them isn’t always easy. It may seem as though mentioning the empty spot in your life that will be augmented during the holidays will only serve to deepen your sadness. This is a common tendency in those who have experienced loss. It’s sort of like the elephant in the room that everyone avoids talking about.

Some people may expect you to get over your grief and move on with your life, which only adds to the difficulty. Their excitement for the holidays may even feel like a mockery of your emptiness as well as a judgment about your sadness, says Virtual Hospice. This may have you feeling quite out of step with your family, friends, community, and culture. It’s important to remember you’re not alone. There are many people around you who are painfully aware of those gaping spots left by the death of a loved one as they cope to find a new way to get through the holidays.

Honoring Loved Ones Through the Holidays

Recognizing the grief you are feeling is the starting point for coming up with new ways of living life through the holidays. Consider these ways of honoring the memory of your loved one as you nurture their continuing presence as part of your new holiday traditions.

  • Light a candle in a special candle holder at the holiday meal or even throughout the entire holiday season.
  • Recognize the empty spot at the holiday meal with a photo, single flower, or other mementos, particularly helpful in the first year of your bereavement.
  • Visit their gravesite, leaving a holiday symbol like a personal note, ornament, or ritual object.
  • Create a small memory tree and invite family and friends to hang special remembrances on each branch. Alternatively, you can set out a memory bowl or basket.
  • Write a poem or letter to your loved one in a journal. You could even read it at a family gathering if you feel comfortable.
  • Go through photo albums or slide shows to reminisce together with family, affirming the identity and strength of your family during this time of sorrow.
  • Express gratitude for memories you have shared with your loved one as well as for the support of family and friends.

In the book “A Decembered Grief: Living With Loss While Others are Celebrating” by Harold Ivan Smith, grief will not fully go away, but it will change; grief can be overwhelming, especially intense during the holidays — those weeks that have always been spent in preparation and anticipation with a loved one who has been lost. The rest of the world may seem to be moving forward and celebrating their lives and good fortunes while you are facing a season of loss and darkness.

Anniversary Reactions

When a loved one passes away, you may be faced with the grief over that loss, again and again, sometimes years later. Feelings of grief often return on the anniversary of their death or on other special days and events throughout the year. These are referred to as anniversary reactions; they don’t represent a setback in the grieving process per se, but rather, they’re a reflection that your loved one’s life held great importance to you, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Reminders of your loved one are inevitable, such as when you visit their grave or mark the anniversary of their death, or any or all holidays, birthdays, or new events you are sure they would have enjoyed. Even celebrating memorial celebrations for other people may trigger the pain and sadness of your own loss. In addition, reminders may be tied to sights, smells and sounds, and may often hit you out of the blue — anything from seeing holiday lights to the smell of a Christmas tree to the eggnog your spouse used to love around the holidays.

Grief often comes in waves. Don’t be surprised if you feel you have been doing well in coping so far, but now that the holidays are here, you’re a mess. It’s common, it’s natural and you’re not alone.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Here at Pathways, we offer many bereavement services during the holidays and indeed the rest of the year, as we know grief has no timeline. From one on one counseling and workshops to annual memorial events and support groups, we invite you to call us to learn more about how we help the grieving get through these tough times.