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Seasonal Grief: Handling the Holidays Without Your Loved One

Seasonal Grief: Handling the Holidays Without Your Loved One

Death may be an inescapable part of life, but that doesn’t make it any easier to cope with losing a loved one when it happens. Even in the simplest circumstances, grief is a complex and highly individual process that ebbs and flows to its unique rhythm. But in challenging times — like the year-end holidays — grief can surface in new and unexpected ways. 

As much as you might wish you could put your grief on hold through the holiday season, there’s no pause button for the mourning process. Instead, you might miss your loved one even more, experiencing intensified grief, guilt, and depression through a time of festivity, joy, and connection.  

While accepting loss usually becomes easier over time, it’s something that’s always with you. As seasoned mental health experts specializing in loss and grief counseling, our team at Boston Neurobehavioral Associates understands it’s difficult to be in pain when there’s so much joy all around you. 

With that in mind, here are a few strategies to help alleviate some of the emotional conflict you may experience when grieving a loved one during the holidays.

Acknowledge your grief emotions

Grief doesn’t take a back seat during the holidays. While it may be tempting to avoid your feelings or try to numb them with alcohol or drugs, it’s important to acknowledge — and allow yourself to experience — your full range of emotions. Laughing and feeling joy when you’re missing a loved one doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten them; you’ve learned that these feelings can gracefully coexist. 

Remember, the holidays have a remarkable way of bringing out a wide range of emotions when you’re grieving; you might feel joy, sadness, and guilt all within a few short minutes. Allow yourself to experience your emotions without judging yourself or thinking that you should be joyful or that you shouldn’t be laughing.  

Set boundaries with holiday events

Be kind to yourself. Losing a loved one can make it feel like every aspect of your life is permanently altered, including your normal holiday routines and customs. Although family and friends may pressure you to attend certain gatherings or events, you can choose to participate in — or not participate in — whatever holiday festivities feel right for you.   

When you commit to something feasible, remind yourself that you don’t have to stay the entire time. It’s also healthy to permit yourself to opt out of certain events altogether as you try to strike a balance between engaging and not pushing yourself too hard.

Focus on the things you can control

The holidays are an immersive, weeks-long experience filled with lights, transformed store displays, holiday music in every shop and office, holiday movies on every network, and copious conversations about parties and plans. You can’t control how the holidays infiltrate your wider environment, but you can control how they affect you at home.   

As you set your healthy boundaries for a difficult season, remember that life goes on for other people, and it’s okay that they’re happy to celebrate this year. Pick a few things that allow you to assert some control over the holiday cheer. Limiting your decorations, shopping online instead of in stores, or forgoing your usual hosting is okay. 

Embrace memories of your loved one

Some people find comfort in continuing holiday traditions as they grieve a loss, while others find that the absence of their loved one makes those traditions feel unbearably painful. Decide which traditions you want to continue, which you want to step away from, and which you may want to adjust. Creating new traditions can be healing, too, and making new memories won’t erase your old ones. 

Planning ahead to fill vacant holiday roles (carving the turkey, decorating the tree, lighting the menorah) can help you avoid unexpected moments of sadness while creating a special way to honor your loved one through the holidays (lighting a candle every night, making their favorite meal) can help you keep their memory alive in the present moment.  

Seek grief support when you need it

Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to get through the holiday season when you’re grieving. Accept your emotions, plan ahead as much as you can, take it easy on yourself, and get support when you need it.   

If you’re anticipating a tough holiday season, we can help. Call or click online to schedule an appointment at Boston Neurobehavioral Associates today. We have offices in Boston, New Bedford, Natick, Brockton, Walpole, Waltham, Worcester, Quincy, Andover, and Springfield, Massachusetts, and one location in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  

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