When December arrives and brings with it the brightest time of the year, it also brings darkness in equal measure to those grieving the loss of a loved one.
If that describes you, you may not know how to navigate this season that once brought so much joy. When you see others celebrating, their families, lives, and hearts intact while yours feels fractured, you may find it difficult to do much of anything—and this is more than okay.
If you’re not sure how to endure the holidays when they hurt, you’re not alone. The following tips may help you find your way through December’s darkness.
HELP WHEN THE HOLIDAYS HURT
Be extra kind to yourself. Don’t judge yourself for grieving while others celebrate. Accept all your feelings, regardless of how unpleasant they may be, as valid parts of the grieving process. Think of how you’d treat a grieving loved one—and then be just as patient and kind with yourself as you would be with them.
Make room for your grief. While it’s tempting to try and push away the pain that comes with loss—as if it could be banished simply by shoving it out the door and telling it to take a hike—it’s likely to show up again, ever the unwanted guest.
Instead of pushing it away, make room for grief during the holidays. Expect to experience it. Set aside time to sit with it—looking at pictures of or letters from your lost loved one. In doing so, you’ll recognize grief’s ongoing presence as proof of your enduring love for the one no longer with you.
Lean on your loved ones. Before December arrives, let your nearest and dearest loved ones know you need their help during the holidays. Make it official by scheduling time with them, knowing they’ll understand if you need to cancel. Don’t worry about being a burden—the thought of you suffering alone would be more of a burden to the people who love you most and best.
Honor lost loved ones through holiday observations. Did your loved one have a favorite holiday pie, tradition, or perhaps a cherished Christmas carol? You may find that continuing to include these elements in your holiday observations is a meaningful way to acknowledge the memory of your loved one.
If including them would only cause grief, however, consider instituting a new holiday tradition that might honor his or her memory instead. It’s up to you—do whatever is most comfortable or helpful for you as you grieve.
HOW TO HELP SOMEONE ELSE WHO IS HURTING DURING THE HOLIDAYS
If you have a loved one who is grieving during this holiday season, there are many things you can do that may prove helpful.
Just check in. Call, email, text, or visit your grieving loved one to see how he’s doing. Checking in reminds him that he’s not alone in the world, and affirms that you’re a person he can turn to if he needs help on a particularly dark December day.
Offer to make food. People who are grieving struggle to take care of themselves. Offering to make food for your loved one is a wonderful way to help him stay afloat. Inviting him over for dinner may also address his social needs, which also tend to go by the wayside when grief enters the picture.
Another option: Set up a meal train for your loved one. With this option, a whole group of people who care about your loved one can take turns providing meals for him when he’s too blue to cook for himself. Being taken care of this way is something he’ll never forget, too.
Offer to help with everyday tasks. Just as grieving people sometimes struggle to eat regularly, your loved one may also find himself behind on laundry, buying groceries, or running other errands. Ask him if there’s anything you can help with, and let him know it’s not an inconvenience.
Listen. If your grieving loved one reaches out to you, be prepared to listen. Lend him both ears. While you’re at it, lend him your shoulder to cry on, too.
If you or your loved one need additional help, but are not sure where to find it, check out the many helpful resources available on the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Ashland County’s website. Visit us online—or call us at (419) 281-3139—and let us know if you need help. Just remember: When the holidays hurt, you don’t need to endure the pain alone.