Surviving the Holidays after a Loss

Rev. Suzanne Marlatt Stewart

Holidays can be stressful and exhausting, even in the best of times. There are many expectations placed on us to be happy. After the death of a loved one, holidays may bring up more sadness, add more stress, and lead to more loneliness.

When we lose someone we love, it’s normal to face the holidays with dread. Many people worry they’ll never enjoy the holidays again. This may be the time when we miss our loved ones the most, when their absence is most felt, no matter how long ago the death occurred. And it may be the time when we most need support from others.

My son passed away in October in rehab from heart complications. I had so much hope for his recovery and spending quality time together. While it is true the holidays will not be the same, you can make them different in a meaningful and helpful way. Don’t run away from your feelings, instead use them to redefine your holiday, to define the celebration to meet your new needs.

No one says holiday traditions must be the same every year. Consider doing away with traditions that were meaningless or unpopular and creating new ones in their place. Incorporating your loved one into new traditions or rituals can enhance the way you remember them and ensure they will be a part of holidays to come.

Below are some ideas for incorporating your loved one into the holidays:

1. Light a candle or say a prayer for them.

2. Share a story about them and ask others to do the same. It can even be a funny story. This is a way to pay tribute to the loss while honoring their place in your lives.

3. Make your loved one’s favorite dish or recipe, and name it for them (Grandma’s rice pudding). Include it in your menu for the future.

4. Repeat a tradition that your loved one may have started or liked. For example, if they always gave a certain toast, give that toast in their honor.

5. Show pictures of them and cherish the memories.

Everyone grieves in their own way. There isn’t a roadmap for grief. Allow yourself time and pay attention to your needs. Don’t take on more than feels good, more than what you want to do.

Just thinking about your loved one not being with you during a holiday may intensify the grief, the sadness, and may even make you angry and resentful at them for leaving you. These feelings are natural. Grief manifests itself in many emotions that can run the spectrum. Try to just acknowledge the emotions and then focus on something else.

A friend sent me this card, after my son’s passing:

Death may take the body.

God takes the soul.

Our minds hold the memories.

Our heart keeps the love.

Faith reminds us we will meet again.

Rev. Suzanne, a resident of SaddleBrooke, is an independent writer and speaker. She was ordained nondenominational, representing all faiths, and her focus is inclusivity.” You can email her at [email protected].