One of the best ways to deal with the holidays after a loss is to plan ahead. Parts of your holidays will inevitably be hard and no one can offer you away around your pain and sadness. However, by thinking about the elements of your holiday celebrations that will be the hardest for you, you will minimize stress and lessen the likelihood that you will be caught off guard by difficult situations.
Completing the plan below with those you will be spending the holidays with will open the lines of communication about everyone’s worries and anxieties and it will allow for discussion about how you can support one another.
Practical Plan for Dealing with the Holidays After a Loss:
1. Identify which individuals you will be spending the holidays with. Who will be present for events, traditions, and celebrations?
- Make a list of the individuals you may want to plan with.
- Often times these individuals will be dealing with the same loss.
- If you will be spending the holidays alone or with people far removed from your loss, grab a journal or a notebook and complete the plan on your own.
2. If you decide to involve family and friends in making a plan, call a family meeting
- Plan the meeting date early enough so people can think, process, and plan.
- Try and have everyone present. If individuals can’t make it you can have them on speakerphone or Skype.
- You could also start a Facebook group, private blog, or e-mail chain for group conversations and updates.
- Don’t overlook the children. Even the youngest family members need to have a chance to express feelings and concerns. It’s also good for children to feel heard
3. Decide what to do about tradition
- Identify the rituals and traditions that will be the hardest.
- Allow each member of the group to discuss what will be hardest about these identified moments.
- Brainstorm ways to make these elements of the holidays easier. Also, discuss ways you can support one another during these times. In the end, you may decide to keep the event or tradition the same, change it, or skip it until next year.
4. Discuss roles and responsibilities
- Your loved one may have held several roles and responsibilities during the holiday season.
- Take a little time to make sure there aren’t any roles, big or small, that will need to be filled or changed (i.e. Who will plan the holiday meal, who will get the tree this year? Who will plan the holiday gift budget?)
- Some people may not feel comfortable stepping into their deceased loved one’s shoes to fill these roles, respect their feeling and don’t push.
- Make sure the roles and responsibilities don’t fall too heavily on one person.
5. Finalize your plan
- You may need some time to think about the plan so schedule follow-up time to finalize if needed.
- Brainstorm or discuss support needs you think you will have (i.e. I may need someone to help me decorate the tree) and discuss how you can offer support to others (i.e. I will help you buy the grandchildren gifts this year).
- Let others know the things you just can’t muster up the energy to do this year, like shop for gifts or attend holiday parties. Small things can take a lot of energy when you are grieving so give each other permission to opt-out of things.
- Make a plan to follow up with those who aren’t present.
6. Communicate with children affected by the loss
- The holidays are hard for children because, although they are sad about the loss, they still may be excited for the same reasons we all were as children. Let them know they don’t need to feel guilty about enjoying themselves.
- Ask them to let you know if they start to feel sad.
- Make a special code word they can use if they need a break or some space.
- Learn a little bit about the influence of children’s age on their understanding of death and grief.
7. If you haven’t already, take time to think about you and how you will take care of yourself during the holidays
- Make a plan for how you will cope when things get really tough. Will you go to a support group, call a friend, go to church, exercise, journal, etc?
- Give yourself permission to cry, even in public. Don’t feel bad when you find yourself sobbing in the middle of JCPenny because you saw a gift they would have liked or their favorite song came on over the loudspeaker.
- Set aside time for self-care. Preventatively schedule an hour here and there for ‘mental health’ time.
- Check out our 64 tips for coping with grief at the holidays.
8. Find ways to incorporate your loved one in the holidays. This is the best way to feel close to your loved one and fill their absence. You may want to find at least one or two ways to incorporate your loved one in each tradition and event that you identified as potentially being difficult. Check out our list of 19 ways to remember your deceased loved one during the holidays.
For further support coping with holidays and special days after experiencing loss, check out our online course Managing Grief on Holidays and Special Days.