One of the hardest things about Thanksgiving Day, and then of course the Christmas holidays, is dealing with loss and grief. It's just difficult to be in the holiday season when you are still dealing with sadness over the death of a loved one, loss of a marriage, or other changes in life that take us away from our traditions and ties to the past.
But there are ways to make the holidays bearable and even pleasant. Here are some things that have worked for me in the past.
Take the time to be sad, angry, quiet or talkative about the lost loved one. I really think we "do" grief badly in this country. It's almost as if the day after the funeral, life should be back to normal, but for someone who has lost a dear friend or a loved one, that "normal" life is over and it takes time to find out what the new normal is.
The same will be true for families after a divorce, or a serious illness, or for family with loved ones not able to be with them for the holidays. It's okay to be sad about that and to miss the familiar.
2. Give it time.
It sounds like a cliche but it's true - time really does take the sting of pain away. Not that it's ever gone all the way, but the intense, breath sucking sadness does fade with time - take hope in that.
3. Make new traditions that include your deceased loved one if that helps.
We have visited my baby's grave site every Christmas Eve since the year he died. We put little tea lights out, sprinkle the grave with glitter, and sing "Silent Night." It has become our ritual.
After my mom died, we included her grave too. And apparently we aren't alone. The cemetery can be a beautiful place at Christmastime with wreaths and decorations. I found a lot of comfort and even cheer in seeing that.
4. Do something new.
If it's too painful to do the same things during the holidays that you did with the deceased, then do something new! Change the menu up, or go and see a different Christmas program or participate in a different Christmas activity. Change can be good too.
5. Downplay the holidays.
Thanksgiving doesn't have to be a big home-cooked spread. It could mean helping out at the homeless shelter, delivering meals to shut-ins, or walking/running for a charity. It could also be attending Mass or a religious service followed by a simple meal.
If Christmas is too painful - you can downplay that too! There are other meaningful days during the winter months for Catholics - like Epiphany or Feast of the Holy family. Find the ways of honoring our Lord and celebrating his incarnation that aren't as loaded with sad reminders. Immerse yourself in the season of Advent!
If you used to go to Midnight Mass, try a Mass on Christmas Day, or even visit a different church. Let the beauty of the season fill your senses without triggering some of the sadness that comes with holiday associations.
6. Sometimes less is more.
That goes with celebrating Christmas and New Years too! Give yourself permission to skip the Christmas cards, or forget the sugar cookies this year. It's okay and people will understand.
Copyright 2014, Elena LaVictoire
About the Author
Elena LaVictoire is a graduate of Baker College and a retired medical transcriptionist. She is married and homeschooled six children. Elena is a public speaker on the topics of marriage, homeschooling, and confirmation preparation. She was also a contributing author to The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion. Elena practices and performs with her flute and records with the Peace Together Choir. She blogs at MyDomesticChurch.com.