Finding Holiday Joy When Grieving

By Aida Pigott and Lisa Catania

For many people, the holiday season is one of the most intimate times to look forward to sharing with our beloveds, fortified by years of tradition.  It is a life-shattering experience when someone you love and cherish dies.  The rituals of the holidays can put an emphasis on your loss and grief, especially when getting into the holiday spirit and joining in the hustle and bustle of buying and exchanging gifts are the expected norms. Socially, the expectation is to experience comfort and joy, while, emotionally, that is farthest from your inner experience.

Here are some suggestions for how to get through the challenges of the holidays.

Set boundaries. You don’t have to comply with the wishes of others who want you to do more than your feelings will allow.  Make time to reflect on what you would like your holidays to look like.  Think about which rituals you will keep, which new ones will take place, which ones you will scale down or even toss, temporarily or permanently.  It may mean choosing to spend time elsewhere.  Be patient and keep doing what brings you the most peace.

Celebrate Love Your Way. Affirm the life and memories of your loved ones in a way that comforts you.  Create simple traditions like setting a place at the table, serving your loved one’s favorite dish, acknowledging the empty chair, lighting a candle, hanging an ornament, reading a poem or visiting their gravesite. Death ends a life, but not your relationship to your beloved, or the love you once shared with them.

Pick Your Company. Choose who to spend time with, and with whom to share memories of the beloved person whose loss you are grieving during the holidays.  That choice may involve dividing your time between family members and the comfort of friends.

Communicate. Communicating reinforces our relationships that are still here, and soothes the grief through simple, yet powerful, sharing of feelings and needs.  Discuss and come to a certain compromise with those who share your loss on how to remember and celebrate your loved one, so that all of your vulnerabilities, needs and plans are considered.

Get support. You may want to consider joining a community of bereaved to learn from each other’s experiences.  Some grief group participants report a sense of relief and camaraderie upon sharing with those who share in similar circumstances and emotional pains.

Keep Your Hopes Up. Your wounds may be fresh, or longstanding, or your grief may have already softened.  Whatever the case, you are healing little by little, and, soon, like the changes seasons bring, new growth will appear, offering you rays of light and hope.

(Aida Pigott, LCSW, CADC, BCD and her fellow therapist, Lisa Catania, LCSW will facilitate support groups for spouse/companion loss and child loss starting in January.  Learn more at  www.BeverlyTherapists.com.)