Surviving the Holidays After the Loss of a Loved One

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Holiday season is upon us.  For many of us, it means peppermint flavored everything, trips to see lights, gift giving, and a time of reflection on the closing of another year.  We celebrate the holidays with gatherings upon gatherings, tables filled with carefully prepared food, and rooms filled with the ones we love. 

For those of us that recently lost a loved one, their presence during these celebrations is greatly missed.  The holidays can transform into a time of mourning. It’s a time where every festive celebration has an undertone of loss. 

This Christmas will mark the one year anniversary of my mom’s passing.   My family and close friends have all been pondering the same thing as the holiday approaches.  How do we not only survive the holidays, but honor my mom’s passing in a way that helps the healing process?  After thinking long and hard about this question, I’ve come up with a few ideas that have been making the holiday season a little more bearable.

Create new traditions. Like many, our holiday seasons have always been a time of tradition.  While we aren’t abandoning all of these traditions, thinking up some new ones has created some renewed energy around the holidays.  As a parent of a young child, some of these new traditions can be easy to come up with, like baking cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, or buying matching pajamas.  You could also start a collection of nutcrackers, or ornate snowman figurines.  You could create a yearly holiday craft as a family.  The possibilities, and hours of Pinterest searching are endless.

Honor your loved one’s traditions.  My mother and I used to bake cookies every year for Christmas.  It was quite a production.  She would go shopping for ingredients for weeks before our baking date, and we would spend an entire day and a half baking hundreds of cookies.  The tradition had started years ago, when my mother started baking cookies with my grandmother.  She passed the tradition on to me, and this year, I will pass the tradition on to my son.  He may not have the patience or stamina as a two year old to bake the amount of cookies my mom and I used to make, but I’m looking forward to his help in making a few cookies to give to friends and family.

Give back. In this past year, I’ve found healing in doing small good deeds for others in memory of my mom.  These good deeds are typically fairly simple to do, like leaving a dollar at a vending machine, with a note for the next person to stop by.  At times, I may explain in the note that this is in honor of my mom, who taught me the importance of giving to others.  Other times, I hold the special meaning privately and reflect on my mom’s generous spirit as I plan out the good deeds.  Our own Pittsburgh Mom’s Blog community has rolled out #raokPMB, a December project inspiring people to spread small acts of kindness throughout our community.  For more information on #raokPMB, you can check out our previous post on the topic here.

Take time to grieve.  It’s not just about filling up my calendar and mental space so that I can avoid my grief.  I know that I can only avoid it for so long before it will inevitably come to the surface.  Grieving can mean different things depending on the day, and depending on the person.  For me, it often means writing a letter when all of the things I haven’t been able to tell my mom this year start to pile up, or spending a quiet moment at her grave to think about the things I miss about her.  Sometimes it means talking to my husband about what feels different this year, if only to get it off my chest.

If you are currently struggling during the holidays with the loss of a loved one, it is my sincere hope that you find comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone in your sorrow.  I would love to hear from you.  What ways have you found to survive the holiday season?