The holiday season can be heartbreaking when you’re mourning the death of a loved one.
How do you get out of bed – much less buy Christmas gifts, go to parties, and experience “the joy of the season” – after someone close to you dies?
When my grandma died, all I wanted to do was sleep. Sleep was an escape from the sadness, regrets, and loss. When I lost my sister, I collapsed into a wailing, inconsolable heap of tears. The pain of not having my loved ones nearby at Christmas will never go away, no matter how many years pass.
If you’ve recently lost a loved one, I encourage you to read books like How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies. You’ll see you’re not alone, and you may learn new ways to cope with death over the holiday season.
If working through your grief at Christmas seems impossibly painful, put it aside until the New Year. But don’t put aside your sadness and regrets for too long, for they will grow and become unmanageable.
Another book that may help is Hello from Heaven: A New Field of Research-After-Death Communication Confirms That Life and Love Are Eternal. Sometimes mourning is easier when you know your loved ones are with you in spirit, and that you’ll meet again someday.
4 Suggestions for Surviving the Holidays When You’re Mourning
If someone you know is struggling to survive the holidays after a loved one’s death, read 5 Ways to Help a Grieving Friend – From Practical to Emotional.
Remember that everyone grieves differently
Your sister, parent, partner, or co-worker may experience and express grief in different ways than you do – and they may even use coping strategies that bewilder and confuse you. For instance, some people grieve by talking about their loss, while others need time alone to process their grief. Some people refuse to celebrate Christmas because they’re in too much pain, while others literally set an empty chair at the holiday table to honor the loved one who has passed.
Experience Christmas in a different way
If your loved one recently died, you may not want to plan your usual holiday celebrations. Maybe it’s time to take a break from your tradition, and celebrate Christmas differently. Different ways to survive the holidays after a loved one dies include volunteering, traveling, or exploring your faith in a different way.
The Christmas before I got married, I volunteered at Easter Seals Camp Horizon in Bragg Creek, Alberta. It was the best Christmas I’ve experienced as an adult, because the campers where so happy, excited, and content with their lives. They were funny and interesting – they were adults with mental disabilities, and the campers I was assigned to were high functioning (it was my first Christmas as a volunteer).
Tell people you want to talk about your loved one
Death isn’t easy for people to talk about; they don’t want to remind you of your pain or prolong your mourning. The wisest advice I received on helping people survive the loss of a loved one was from a man who lost his 7 year old boy in a drowning accident. He said he wants people to ask him about his son, because talking about him keeps his memory alive. He feels closer to his son when he shares memories, and he wants people to remember his son, too.
Will talking about your loved one help you survive the Christmas season? Then tell people that you need to talk. Your friends and family may be reluctant to bring up the subject themselves, because they don’t want to “remind” you of your loss (but of course you’re almost always thinking about it, on some level!).
Hold on to your faith
In Surviving Christmas When You Lost Someone This Year, pastor Kim Martinez shares the story of Lazarus, Martha, and Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died,” said Martha.
“What does this mean for that shortened Christmas list and the hole in our heart?” writes Kim in her article about coping with death over the holidays. “It means that this is not the end, and that there is more to life than just now. It also means that God understands real grief and wants to be a part of the process with us. Carol Kent write a book called XXX”A New Kind of Normal,” about adjusting to life after her son was convicted of murder. When we lose someone we love, we have to find ‘a new kind of normal’ Christmas and other family holidays just aren’t the same. We miss them. God, however, remains the same, and He will be our stability as we adjust and find a new balance to live life from.”
What do you think? How will you survive the holidays after losing someone you love?
I'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello below - I can't give relationship advice, but writing can bring you clarity and insight.