After a loved one passes away, the holidays are never the same again. Grief triggers are everywhere, and decorations and events that are meant to bring joy may serve as painful reminders of loss. Traditions, events, parties, songs, movies all trigger memories. Studies show keeping your loved one’s memory alive by continuing to make them a part of your holiday season is a healthy part of the grieving/healing process.
Here are 10 ways to remember loved ones during the holidays:
1. Photos: Display old photo albums in a location accessible to holiday visitors. People can’t resist a well placed photo album. Before you know it you’ll be reminiscing and telling stories with family and friends.
2. Get out the old home videos. Yes you may get emotional, but it also might be comforting to see your loved one up on the TV screen. Again, it’s a great opportunity for story telling and reminiscing.
3. After a loss it can be hard to part with your loved ones belongings. The holidays present the perfect opportunity to give away some of these things, especially if you are someone who always wants to make sure that old treasures go to good homes. Wrap up a few of your loved one’s old things and give them to family and friends who will appreciate them.
4. Create a special place for people to write down memories. Put out a marker and paper or plain wooden ornaments. Friends and family can hang the ornaments or leave the memories in an old stocking or empty gift box. When everyone is gathered together, read the memories aloud.
5. Donate to a cause in your loved ones name. Try and choose a charity your loved one would have supported. During the holidays churches and places of worship, local food pantries, homeless shelters, soldiers and their families, nursing homes, and ‘Toys for Tots’ are all very active.
6. Volunteer your time to others in need. You might choose a cause your loved one worked with or supported. If your feeling lonely, try a retirement home where you can sit and talk to those you are helping.
7. Light a candle in honor of your loved one. Leave it burning during days when you think you’ll miss them the most.
8. When you see a gift your loved one would have liked, go ahead and buy it. Donate it to a charity or give it to someone as gift.
9. Visit or spend time in a place where you feel close to your loved one. You could also spend time watching their favorite holiday movies or listening to their favorite holiday songs.
10. Take care of yourself. Attend a workshop or support group for people dealing with a loss during the holidays. Remember that your loved one would have wanted you to have the support you need.
And a few helpful strategies to get through the holidays without your loved one:
1. Trust that Grief is Part of Healing. Time doesn’t heal the pain associated with a loss, it’s what you do what that time that matters. Grief is the process by which you heal. Experiencing the pain-rather than constantly trying to escape it-can actually help you feel better in the long-term.
2. Set Healthy Boundaries. If attending a holiday ceremony or participating in a gift swap is likely to bring about too many painful memories this year, be willing to say no.
3. Focus on What You Can Control. Think about what you can do to lessen the heartache when you can. It’s ok to limit your decorations or shop for presents online only. Keep in mind, that life goes on for other people and it’s ok that they’re happy to celebrate this year.
4. Plan Ahead. Often, the anticipation over how hard something is going to be is worse than the actual event. Create a simple plan for how you’ll get through the holidays to avoid extending your anguish. Drive yourself to holiday functions or ride with a trusted friend who will take you home whenever you want. Knowing you can easily leave at any time can help you enjoy the activity much more than you would if you felt stuck.
5. Do Something Kind for Others. Even when you’re in the midst of grief, you still have something to offer the world. Performing a few acts of kindness can be good for the grieving spirit.
6. Find a Way to Honor Your Memories. Create a special way to memorialize the person you’ve lost. Whether you decide to light a candle every night or eat your loved one’s favorite food, honoring your loved one can serve as a tangible reminder that even though they are gone, their memory lives on.
7. Create New Traditions. Don’t be afraid to create new traditions this year too. You can also alter old traditions and make them fit better with the new phase in your life.
8. Allow Yourself to Feel a Range of Emotions. The holidays can bring about a wide range of emotions. You might feel joy, guilt, and sadness all within a few minutes. Allow yourself to feel those emotions without judging yourself or thinking you should be happy or you shouldn’t be laughing.
9. Ask for Help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re struggling with the holidays. Look for support groups or contact a professional counselor to help you deal with your grief in a healthy manner.
It’s an important part of the healing process to remember loved ones during the holidays. Surround yourself with caring friends and find what works for you. Remind loved ones that you’re having a rough time, and reach out for more support.