Getting Through Your First Holidays Without Your Loved Ones

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"Reasons Why The Holidays Are Hard Without Your Loved Ones Around
Reason 1: Your Loved One Died On or Around a Holiday
If this has been your experience, you might feel extra tender, or even numb around other holidays as well. If your loved one was actively dying or undergoing hospice care around a holiday, you may have a similar feelings of dread or avoidance around the holidays as well.
Reason 2: Change in Routine
If the holidays are a big part of your life, you likely have routines that you stick to year after year: setting out decorations, planning to host friends and family, traveling to be with other people, cooking various meals, etc. When a loved one dies, these routines have a way of screeching to a halt. In addition to feeling sad, you may find yourself feeling disoriented by this drastic change in routine.
Reason 3: You Feel Pressure to Be in the "Holiday Spirit"
It sounds obvious, but people expect that everyone around them will be happy around the holidays. When you're grieving however, it might be impossible to access any sense of joy around the holidays. Between the holiday music blasting in most grocery stores, to the abundance of holiday movies featured on most streaming services, it can also be hard to avoid overt messages about being in a happy headspace.
Reason 4: You Feel Conflicted About Feeling Joy While Grieving
You might also feel conflicted about whether or not it"s okay to experience joy around the holidays after your loved one has died. Some people worry that feeling happiness or joy means that they are forgetting their loved one, that they are moving on, and that they"re being disrespectful to their loved one"s memory.
Tips for Getting Through The Holidays Without Your Loved One
Tip 1: Incorporate your loved one.
There are many ways to incorporate your loved one into your holiday celebrations. Did your loved one have a favorite recipe they either enjoyed making or eating? If so, consider including that recipe in your holiday menu. You might also enjoy putting together a playlist of your loved one"s favorite music. Whether you listen to this playlist on your own, or during a holiday-specific gathering, it can be a gentle way to connect with your loved one.
Tip 2: Experiment with your holiday traditions.
While some holiday traditions may feel comforting to keep, others may feel too hard to engage in. Some people find themselves confused about why certain holiday traditions make them feel sad or even angry. While the reasons for these emotions are varied, sometimes it comes down to the fact that you simply miss your loved one and you wish they were still physically present.
If you"re feeling curious about what this could look like, make a list of three to five holiday activities you"ve never done before (you can always add more to the list, but this is a nice start). You might also want to consider which of these activities you"d like to do with a friend or family member, versus which activities you"d prefer to do alone. When you feel up to it, choose one of these activities to try.
Tip 3: Give yourself an exit plan for social activities.
Planning to be around other people can be comforting and overwhelming at the same time. If you plan to attend social gatherings, be sure to give yourself permission to cancel or leave the event early. If communicating with other people about your need to change plans feels overwhelming, consider using one of the following scripts:
"Thank you so much for including me in your holiday gathering. I"m really missing my (dad, mom, sister, friend, etc.) today and need to stay home to give myself time to rest. I"d love to get together another time."
"I"ve really enjoyed seeing you today. I"m feeling a bit overwhelmed and will be heading home early. Let"s touch base soon to find another time to connect one-on-one."
Tip 4: Give yourself permission to feel a wide range of emotions.
It can feel strange, but it"s absolutely possible to feel deep sadness while also experiencing moments of joy or pleasure. If you need proof that your emotional state varies throughout the day, consider keeping track of your emotions either in a journal, or on the Notes app on your phone. When you track your feelings, note what time of day you felt an emotion, and note what you were doing when you noticed the emotion. You might notice that certain times of day, or certain activities lend themselves to specific feelings.
Tip 5: Attend Grief Counseling
If you live in Oregon, you can reach out to me for Grief Counseling. Together we can identify the unique challenges you might be facing as you experience the holidays without your loved one. We can also put a plan in place for how to navigate the holiday season in a way that meets your specific needs. If you don"t live in Oregon, I recommend using Melanin and Mental Health, Therapy Den, or Inclusive Therapists to find a therapist who"s licensed to practice in the state you live in.You can also filter your results for both in-person and virtual therapy options.
Getting through your first round of holidays without your loved ones can feel isolating and overwhelming. Know that it is more than okay to experiment with how you approach the holidays while you are grieving. If you feel up to engaging with some holiday activities, but not others, that"s more than okay. Similarly, if you want to disengage from the holidays all together, that"s okay too. Do what works for you and your specific needs."

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