Last week was Thanksgiving.  Today is the beginning of Hannukah.  In a few weeks there is Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year. Like punches to your stomach, you may feel pummeled.  It is very hard.

The word “celebrate” just feels wrong.  Or “happy,” like” Happy Hanukkah “or” Happy Holidays” or “Happy New Year.”   Not a lot of “happy“going around when someone you loved has died or left.

Social obligations, memories of past holidays with them, anticipation of dreaded conversations with people you know and don’t know. So awkward and uncomfortable.  You may feel very alone, overwhelmed, sad, angry, lost.

How to get through it?

One thing I find helpful personally and professionally is to know on some level the holidays are just going to be painful on some level.  Like having brain freeze or a charley horse, acknowledging that they hurt and knowing that the intense pain eventually subsides a bit helps.  Also, I’ve noticed that even though as a whole the days are difficult, there may be moments in them that are actually ok and maybe even good, where I have a nice memory which makes me laugh or where I feel a sense of love and tenderness.  Below are a few ideas about how to cope as you bear the pain enduring “the most wonderful time of the year.”

1) Have an Exit Strategy

Grief specialist David Kessler states that since grief is an intensely personal and isolative experience it’s natural to want to be alone and not deal with others during this time.  But if you find yourself engaging socially, it’s a good idea to have a plan to leave the event when you are ready.  You can leave early or change your mind and stay as long as you want. Friends and family may understand your suffering and give you a pass on any kind of preconceived social norm.  Or they may want to do things that they think will make you feel better and “cheer you up.” Have patience and know they really do mean well, even though you may find it irritating or insensitive.  You can also say ”no” to these invites if you want.    Sometimes these events turn out better than expected and actually can be nice, or at least distracting for a moment.

 2) Traditions- Do. Or Modify. Or Don’t Do

Sometimes it can feel comforting to uphold traditions that you and your loved one used to do.  It may be a way to feel connected and honor their memory.  My dad always made it a tradition to serve fish on Christmas Eve.  In his memory, I like to serve fish as well.  I remember with love the way he cracked crab legs for the family to enjoy so we didn’t have to go through the work of doing it ourselves (that is one activity I do not replicate). With other traditions the “not the sameness” is just too much and carrying out the tradition is too painful.  There is no right way to go here.  It’s perfectly fine to do it, or choose not to do it, or to do it in a different way.

3) Start a New Tradition

Coming up with new set of actions can add meaning and honor the memory of the deceased.  The internet is a good place to get ideas for activities and things to do.  Or you can solicit the input from family or friends.  The effort and execution of the new tradition can give you a different focus and attention that is refreshing.

4) Create something

It could be practical or artistic (or both).  I choose to make foods that were favorites of those absent.  Other grievers have built things out of wood, painted, made music compilations or wrote new songs, played instruments, choreographed dances, made home improvements, framed photos, written poetry or made journal entries, collected memorabilia and put in a decorated box.  It’s that sense of productivity that can add structure, meaning and purpose to an otherwise chaotic, disorganized and “all over the place “time of year.

5) Go somewhere

It could be local or require more travel, but getting away, even for a few hours, can help make the holiday more tolerable.  Even better if it includes an aspect of nature.  Noticing elements in nature can be incredibly healing and supportive.

However you choose to spend the days, remember to be kind and compassionate to yourself and others who are also grieving in their own ways.  A little TLC (tender loving care) goes a long way.

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