How to navigate grief during the holiday season

Salt Lake Tribune

How do you make it through the holidays grieving your loved one? The holidays are an exciting and happy time for most people, but for others they are a painful reminder of a loved one who is no longer here to celebrate. People on the street and in stores probably are greeting you with some “happy” or other “merry” sentiment. But, for you, it may not be such a happy or merry time. A loving mother, grieving the loss of her son, sent the following e-mail:

“This is our seventh Christmas since our son Gene’s death in July 1999. The tender feelings are still there and will be there forever. Gene loved Christmas. I know he is still with us, we just cannot see him. There are so many emotions that come up during this time of the year. It is supposed to be a happy time, but for many of us it is a bittersweet time. I am grateful for a family that still talks about how much they miss him, and the memories we all share.”

When a loved one has died, holidays, anniversaries and birthdays inevitably bring fresh memories. While you once celebrated these events with joyous pleasure, they are now painful reminders that someone you love dearly is missing and his chair remains empty. There are times when it feels that the depth of your loss will eat you alive. Your life continues, however; often just one breath, or one step, at a time.

For many, the anticipation of a holiday is more painful than the actual day. Even if you wish to pretend otherwise, your loved one will be on your mind. Create a time or ritual to honor, acknowledge and celebrate her legacy.

The same mother quoted above continues her e-mail: “A friend, who had two children die, gave me an idea that first Christmas that has become a tradition for us. We go to the cemetery on Christmas Eve and place luminaries around [Gene’s] grave. It makes me feel good to see the warm glow as we leave to go home. I want to pass on some advice to others going through this tough time. Just do what you feel comfortable with. Don’t allow anyone to force you to do things just because you did them in the past. Find new traditions that are helpful to you. We have added candle lighting ceremonies to our traditions.”

Re-evaluate your family traditions. A clear sign of mental stability is flexibility. Design new rituals and traditions, or do something symbolic to memorialize your loved one.

Tears are meant to be shed, and shared (or not). It’s speculated that tears contain a component that has the effect of improving our emotional state. Whatever the purpose of our tear ducts, we know that crying is healing. While holidays are arbitrary, grief-stricken tears have a life of their own and they don’t always follow your “halt” commands. When they roll, make no apologies. And, be with those you trust who’ll be honored to supply you with plenty of clean tear-catchers.