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Intention and Self-Care: Surviving the Holidays in Grief

There is no way around this truth – the idea of going through the holiday season without your loved one can be anger, fear, sadness and anxiety producing. If this is your first holiday season in grief; know that oftentimes the anxiety leading up to the holidays is worse than the actual holiday itself. Somehow you will get through the day. Below are a few pointers on preparing for and getting through the holidays, and these same recommendations can be used for any “firsts” you may experience.

Tip # 1: You don’t owe anyone a false happiness. If you are sad – say so. If you are mad, angry, lonely, feeling ripped off or have any emotion other than happiness, share it. Don’t keep it inside. Expressing our grief – this is called mourning – is critically important to healing. Mourning is the outward expression of all of the internal energy we call “grief”. It has to come out – don’t pretend it away to save anyone else’s feelings.

Tip # 2: All the memories of holidays gone by, or expectations for the future, have a rightful place in your mourning. Think about them. Honor the importance of previous times together; remember them with love. You may want to sit down and journal about what you remember and what made the holidays special for you. Some of us will be grieving the loss of an unborn baby these holidays, and this is something we don’t talk about enough. There were plans and dreams for these holidays. Honor them; share them with others and grieve them. Allow the plans for a future that is no longer possible a place in your mourning. Honor this sadness and this loss. It is painful and it needs rightful expression.

Tip # 3: If you’re not sitting on yes, the answer is no. If you do not feel like a party, gathering, gift exchange or fill in the blank, then don’t do it. You owe yourself loving compassion right now and if social events are too painful, do not torment yourself with them. You also do not owe an excuse for why you are opting out. A simple “no thank you” or “I am not able to do that right now” is all that is needed. Your emotional healing cannot take a backseat to the needs of others.

Tip #4: Be gentle on yourself and others. It could really hurt to hear the cheer of people wishing others, and you, a happy this or a merry that. Know that your experience is yours; and it is unique to you. If you can tolerate the pleasantries; returning them does no harm. If you cannot bear to know that anyone else is happy right now, and the holidays just hurt, thank them, and move on. Know that everyone does the best they can, and no one means you harm. It’s just the holidays – they hurt all by themselves.

Tip #5: Do not ignore or pretend your loved one is not part of the holiday season. If you celebrated before, incorporate them into this season in some form or fashion. Bring pictures to the family dinner to include them and make a point to share this with others. Inclusion of our grief is supportive and helpful. Set a place at the table, light a candle in their honor. Include your loved one if this feels right. In doing so you not only support yourself, but you also teach others how to grieve and mourn.

Tip #6: Plan for the days. Be intentional about what you will do and who you will do it with. Sitting at home in bed with the covers over your head may sound like a plan right now, but you owe yourself the best support you can provide. Having others with you is in fact one of the best ways to get through the days, make plans to be with someone during the most difficult days or times. This may mean that you change up and don’t celebrate like you used to, but you instead go for a hike or volunteer somewhere for the day. Physical movement and giving to the community are powerful healing agents. Do something your loved one would have enjoyed. Get out your calendar and make an entry for every hour of the most dreaded days and fill it with something nourishing. Intentional action is the best approach to the hardest and most difficult moments.

Tip #7: Self-care is paramount. When planning for the day, include a massage, facial, pedicure, hike, walk, sit in the woods, retail therapy, baking, a long hot bath/shower, sleep in, go to bed early, whatever feeds your soul – do that.

Final thought: Know that no matter what you do, you will be missing your loved one, and their absence will be pervasive. And, you will make it through the days. With intention, support and active, honest mourning, you will survive the holidays. Take care of you first, honor the love that you still have and do what feels right for you. Get the best, supportive friends and family with you, care for yourself and maybe even start a few new traditions. Start planning now. With intention and self-care, you can get through the holidays in grief.

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