You don't move on when you lose someone you love. You can move in, and move forward, but not past what happened, what's lost. When it comes to grief and the holidays, or anytime, you can't rush your healing. What you can do is remember, honor, and incorporate your loved one into your life in new ways.
“How did I survive this year without you? How will I survive next year without you? The answer is the same: Love and grief. Both essential, now, to my survival.” — Dr. Joanne Cacciatore
A note: This list is in no way comprehensive, and there are no “rules” for coping that I know of for sure. I'm not a professional and this doesn't replace professional advice or care. If your pain is too great, you can find support here.
How to Cope with Grief and the Holidays, and How to Help
If you're grieving…
1. Be honest. Tell others what you want to do, and what you don’t want to do. Your honest expressions and requests leave less room for misunderstanding and frustration. More than likely, they want to help but just don’t know how or are afraid to do the wrong thing.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It takes courage, which you have. This may be the right time to seek counseling and support from a professional, or a friend you trust to listen.
3. Plan events ahead of time. If you attend events, drive yourself so you can leave when you need to. Or, have a trusted friend go with you to make an easier entrance and exit.
4. Light a candle, turn on a lamp, or string lights in your home in their memory.
5. Make your decorations meaningful. Dedicate the whole Christmas tree to your loved one and decorate it with ornaments that resemble what they loved and valued. Hand-make a memorial ornament, wreath, or other decoration for the home. Minimize decorations and gifts, and just focus on one or two meaningful things.
6. Connect with your loved one’s friends/family. Send a holiday card or gift to other friends or family of your loved one. Spend time together to reflect and share stories.
7. Serve. Make a donation to a charity that supports a cause that was important to your loved one. Volunteer in your loved one’s memory. Donate a meal to a family in need through your church, charitable organization, department of social services, or salvation army.
8. Create a memory box or a memory stocking. Handwrite loving memories and traits of your loved one, and place them in the box, jar, stocking, or other container. Everyone can sit down, pick from the collection, and share the love, together.
9. Practice self-care. Do something that’s just for you. It’s not self-indulgent, but necessary for healing. Allow quiet time for nothing at all, buy yourself something that brings comfort, journal, listen to guided meditations, get a massage, etc.
10. Give yourself permission to live. Allow yourself the gift of being in the present moment, present with the crisp air and trees, the blue sky and red cardinals, the breaths you’re breathing and the body you’re inhabiting. It's still your turn to be here. Give yourself permission to love and live, even here, after everything.
“I have so much of you in my heart.” — John Keats
If you know someone who's grieving…
1. Be sensitive and empathetic. Understand that there's no one way or wrong way to grieve, and acknowledge that your coping style might differ from theirs. Be patient and present with what’s coming up them.
2. Pay attention to their cues. If you accompany your loved one to an event, agree to look out for their signal that it's time to leave. Pay close attention to how comfortable they feel when you bring up their loved one. Some people enjoy talking about them and sharing stories, while it makes things harder for others.
3. Encourage, but don't push. It can be healthy and good for them to get out and be with people, but don't force the subject. There’s a fine line between encouragement and intrusion. Just be sincere, patient, and compassionate with your proposals. Don't stop inviting them to things (gently), no matter how many times they say no.
4. Plant a tree or make a donation in honor of their loved one.
5. Beware of the word “should.” Don’t tell someone what they should do, or how they should be behaving or coping. Be a source of acceptance for this person who's learning what works for them. Also, they don't need to answer any text or phone call they don't feel like answering.
6. Offer to make the their loved one’s favorite dish. Or, just make something homemade and leave it on their doorstep or kitchen table. Make it with love, with no expectations.
7. Offer a specific way you can help lighten the burden of the season. Cook their favorite meal, bake so they don’t have to, clean the house, go for a walk outside with them, go grocery shopping for or with them, or drive them to events.
8. Don’t force your views on them. Sharing your beliefs and personal experiences can be comforting and helpful. If you do share, remember they might not feel the same way you do. It might not be time to share what you believe happened to their loved one after they died. They might not want to hear that "they're at peace now." Leave some space.
9. Ask about their interest in old and new traditions. See if they'd like to continue certain holiday traditions. If they want to change something, help them explore new traditions, maybe in memory of their loved one.
10. Just be all there with them. Practice the ancient art of listening. Being present with your loved one as they grieve and heal might be the most important gift you could ever give them. You don't need to fix their problems or answer every question. Just showing up makes a world of difference.
The world doesn't stop spinning, not for death, not for grief. So it's best to hold on to love.
. . .
Which of these ideas do you need the most today?
Tell me in the comments. I read every single one, and I'd love to know.
Do what you can. Ask for what you need. Honor what’s showing up for you. Honor the life. Carry the love. Always the love.
You've got my love,