Care Dimensions: Coping with First Holiday Season After a Loved One’s Death

Voices of Care

Coping with First Holiday Season After a Loved One’s Death

Posted on November 25, 2019 by Erin Uzarski, MS

If you have lost someone close to you this year, you may be dreading the upcoming holiday season and all its reminders of your loved one’s absence.

As you and your family adjust to your new reality, some planning and self-compassion may help to make the holidays easier.  

Here are some practical strategies for coping with your first holiday season without your loved one:

Planning: Set up a time to talk with those with whom you usually celebrate the holidays. Each relative or family member may be grieving differently, so express your own preferences while being open to individual feelings and wishes with a view to finding a compromise that works for all.   

Old and new traditions: There is no right way to grieve, and this year, your regular holiday rituals may seem unappealing, including opting to decorate the house for the season. For family or group meals, do you still make your loved one’s favorite food? Or, this year, will you simply omit this dish from the holiday menu? Should you leave your loved one’s chair empty at the table, or switch up the seating arrangements so that you are not reminded of their absence? Do what works best for you, but instead of avoiding all conversations about a newly deceased loved one, you may use this time to share memories and stories. Or you may want to develop a new ritual of remembrance, such as lighting a special candle or sharing a moment of silence before or after a meal.

Alone or with a crowd:  This year you may feel lonely amid a big group, especially when everyone else seems to be celebrating. Alternatively, you may welcome the distraction of being with others by attending your usual roster of holiday parties or neighborhood open houses. As you plan which events to attend, consider opting to drive to some events separately so that you can leave early if or when you need to. Or, at the party, find a space such as a deck or empty room where you can take a few moments alone.    

Cancel the holiday celebrations this year:  Grief has no timeline and there is no right or wrong way to cope with loss. If needed, give yourself permission to take a year off from the traditional holiday festivities. It helps to prepare a brief, pre-scripted response for those who question your decision. Or plan to spend some quiet time with people who understand you and who can accept your moments of both sadness and joy.  

Cut back on obligations: Don’t feel guilty about not being able to meet the usual obligations such as gift giving, volunteering or cooking. Make your holiday shopping lists ahead of time and do only the amount of shopping you know you can tolerate. Or let everyone know that you will be downsizing your shopping list and holiday menu.    

Canceling or changing your holiday celebrations may not be forever and, next year, you may be ready to resume all of the old traditions. Until then, as you observe this first holiday season without your loved one, it’s important to honor your own feelings, your own story and your unique grieving process. If and when you need help and support, it’s also important to reach out and ask for it.

Our licensed bereavement counselors offer support groups, workshops and events for anyone in the community who has experienced a death. We also offer individual counseling to people grieving the death of a loved one who was on Care Dimensions’ hospice service.

Consider attending one of our “Coping with the Holidays” workshops being offered after our Tree of Lights celebrations in Danvers and Lincoln. See our Bereavement Calendar for full list of offerings.

Watch Erin Uzarski discuss Coping with the Holidays After a Loss during an interview on our cable TV show, “Timing is Everything.”

Erin Uzarski, MS, is a bereavement counselor at Care Dimensions.      

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Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in more than 95 communities in Eastern Massachusetts.