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This holiday season will be my first one without my father. Daddy, as I always called him, was one of the most special parts of my life. His death back in March, was a huge loss and I miss him so much it hurts. I was so lucky to have a father who loved me completely and unconditionally. In addition to the loss of my father, his older brother My Uncle Tony, died in September. One of my cousins died last December at only 31, as well as several other family members. It has been a big year of loss for my family and we will feel their absence even deeper during the holidays.

I know I’m not the only one, and that there are so many people who are dealing with grief and loss. Many are dealing with the loss of family, friends, and even pets. When you lose someone special, many things change, and it can be tough to celebrate when your heart is heavy.

People deal with grief in many different ways. Some throw themselves into work or projects. Other sit in their grief in order to try and get it out of their system. No matter how you grieve, it’s important to do it in the way that works for you.

For those who are experiencing loss this year, or are still feeling a loss even years after, I wanted to offer you some options to help. I know that everything won’t work for everyone, and they are just suggestions. Some of them are things I’ve done myself that helped, and others are from professionals who deal with grief.

If you’re going through it, please know that I am thinking of you, and hope that you are able to find some form of joy in order to celebrate the holiday season, and honor the person or people you’ve lost.

NOTE: I wrote this post to let people know that they’re not alone in their grief. I offer some tips based on my own experiences, and info that looked helpful. Please know that none of this replaces professional mental health help if you decide you need it. Resources below.

  • Acknowledge your feelings

    Blackboard that reads How Do You Feel?

    Feel your feels. If you’re feeling sad, or angry, or frustrated, it’s ok. You may also feel happy, but guilty for feeling happy. I think it’s important to acknowledge those feelings, and not just try to push them away. We all have different ways that we deal with them, and the best way is the way that works for you. Cry it out, laugh it out, write it out, create it out. Whatever works for you to express and acknowledge your feelings, do that.

    Also know that it’s totally ok to go from sadness to joy to anger. As you deal with each of them, be kind to yourself.

  • Make a plan

    Yellow post-it on a calendar that says Plan Ahead

    Grief is incredibly unpredictable. One minute you’re fine, and the next you’re walking through Target and busting out in tears. From Psychology Today, it’s important to make a plan.

    “Often, the anticipation over how hard something is going to be is worse than the actual event. So while Thanksgiving dinner may only last two hours, you could easily spend three weeks dreading it. Create a simple plan for how you’ll get through the holidays to avoid extending your anguish. Often, it’s helpful to create an escape plan. Drive yourself to holiday functions or ride with a trusted friend who will take you home whenever you want. Just knowing you can easily leave at any time can help you enjoy the activity much more than you would if you felt stuck.”

  • Honor their memory

    Group of people around a table holding hands in prayer

    There are so many different ways that you can do this. I have ornaments on my tree that I got when my sister died in 2009. Every year when I put it on the tree I think about her and all the Christmases we had together. Every one of my childhood Christmas memories are tied to her, and over the years, the gut-wrenching grief I felt each Christmas has lessened. I still miss her so much, and I’m grateful that I’m able to look at old Christmas photos and smile. Don’t get me wrong, I may still shed some tears, but the pain has lessened some.

    Some ways to honor their memory:

    • Light a special candle for them.
    • Make a donation to a charity special to them, in their honor.
    • Visit their final resting place. Whether a gravesite, or place where their ashes were spread, it could make you feel comforted. You can bring a wreath or flowers.
    • Write a letter to them. I have a journal that I use exclusively to write letters to my father. It helps when I want to talk to him and can’t.
    • Buy or make a special ornament in their honor.
    • Make their favorite holiday dish.
    • Sing their favorite holiday songs.
    • Read their favorite book.
    • Remember them in prayer as you bless your meals.
    • Raise a glass and toast them for all they meant to you.
  • Do what feels right for you

    Person hugging their dog, a boxer

    Everyone’s grief process is different. Honor yours and do what feels right for you, even if that means skipping some events. One year after a devastating breakup, I just couldn’t deal with being around other people, even the people I love most in the world. While not the same loss as death, it was still something I needed to take time to grieve. I just told my family that I wouldn’t be there for Thanksgiving and stayed home and made a huge turkey that I didn’t even eat. It didn’t go to waste, but the process of doing something traditional felt comforting during this really rough time.

  • Rally your support system

    Group of hands in the middle of a circle

    You know who in your life helps you to feel better. The friend who helps you process things, the cousin who gives the best hugs, the friend who brings over some pizza and wine, and even a therapist. We all have people who we consider our support system, and it’s time to reach out to them. If you acknowledge and feel your feelings, you’ll be better equipped to know what you might need to help. Once you do, give them a call, even if it’s just to sit and binge-watch 90-Day Fiance.

  • Take a seat at the kid's table (literally or figuratively)

    Various handmade gingerbread houses

    For me, being around children is a way to instantly lift my spirits. A lot of the focus of the holidays is on children and the joy it brings to them. Tap into that joy, but finding a way to get in touch with your inner child. Some suggestions to do alone or with your children, or the children of family and friends.

    • Sit with the kids at the kid’s table. Ask them question and they’re sure to make you smile.
    • Decorate a gingerbread house.
    • Watch your favorite childhood holiday shows.
    • Go toy shopping and donate them to a charity collecting toys for children in need.
    • Drive around and look at the holiday lights.
    • Make paper snowflakes.

    I also want to acknowledge that the person you’re grieving may be a child. It is an unfathomable type of grief that no one should go through. I witnessed it in my father. When my sister died, he was forever changed. Here’s a list of resources that may help through that process.

    And while we’re talking about children, there are children who will be grieving a parent, grandparent, or any other significant person in their life. Here’s a list of resources from Experience Camps, an organization that offers kids a camp experience with other kids who are grieving.

  • Give your time or resources

    Two young men wearing grey aprons, masks, and navy blue shirts that read volunteer

    My mother has always told me that the best way to make yourself feel better, is to do something for someone else. That could mean donating at a food pantry. You could donate toys to children in need. There are so many different ways you can give back. Here’s a list of ideas from Doing Good Together.

  • Do something new and different

    Two adults watching/helping a young girl cut the turkey

    Without your loved one, the holidays will already be, and feel, very different. A person who has been a big part of the day will be missing. One thing that can help is embracing the different, and making new memories. If having to plan a big, huge party and meal seems overwhelming, scale back for the year. If you have to do a “make your own subs and sundaes” dinner, do that. It’s easy, fun, and covers the main point of the holidays – getting together with family and friends.

     

     

  • If you need it, get help

    Four young people sitting on chairs in a semi-circle with two people hugging in the middle

    From Bridges to Recovery

    You don’t have to be in a desperate state to reach out for professional grief counseling or therapy. However, there are some critical signs to know that may indicate you need help:

    • Intense sadness, from which you can’t find any relief
    • Obsessive thoughts about your loved one and intense longing for them
    • Extreme focus either on reminders of your loved one or avoidance of reminders
    • Inability to accept the loss
    • Numbness or detachment from your life and others
    • Inability to enjoy life or find meaning or purpose
    • Difficulty functioning normally
    • Withdrawal and isolation from others

    These are symptoms of complicated grief, a condition some people experience after a loss. It is a debilitating state that is not typical grief, and that can benefit from professional treatment. Normal grief may feel like this at times, but it should ease. If you find you can’t get relief or function as you once did, look for a therapist specializing in grief.

    You may also benefit from residential treatment. Staying in a facility has important benefits for anyone struggling to adapt to life without a loved one. A treatment center can provide you with a team of professionals and treatment for all aspects of your mental health. Taking a break from the holidays to manage your wellness may be just what you need.

    Facing the holidays while grieving is a terrible position to be in, but it is one that many people face. You’re not alone in this, but how you cope with the loss and the season is up to you. Make positive choices, reach out for help, and take care of your health and wellness for the best outcome.