By Kendra Doukas, LMFT
Depending on where you are along your grief journey you will most likely notice yourself thinking more and thus missing your deceased loved one during the holidays. It is also natural for us to reflect on those we’ve lost, even if it has been years or decades since their death. Here are some things to expect if you’ve suffered a more recent loss:
1. Increase in grief and loss symptoms: No, you aren’t going crazy, you are grieving. It is likely (and normal) to experience an influx of many different emotions, sometimes all at once. It is also normal for these emotions to seemingly arise out of nowhere or be surprising to you.
2. Increase in amount of time thinking about your loved one: Holidays are normally the time of year that we see loved and sometimes even the only time of year we see loved ones. We come to expect to interact with these loved ones at this time. This might mean that the first round of holidays since your loved one has passed also means the first time you are really feeling their loss in a real way. On the contrary, the holidays might bring about a rise in missing your loved one and wishing you could speak to them or get their advice about something in your life.
3. Grief is a process: Grief unfolds over time and has many layers. Holidays can often be an opening to the next layer of grief, whether it is the first holiday since your loss or if many years have passed.
4. Families grieve in different ways: Everyone affected by the loss will be grieving. Because everyone is at such a unique place in their own grieving process, talking about your shared loss with other family members is not always helpful. This can feel very surprising and jarring to people and can even tear families apart. It is important to try and find empathy for what everyone is uniquely experiencing. No one can change how they feel about a loss and all feelings are valid.
Five Tools for Coping:
1. Engage in a ritual that honors your loved one: Make their favorite dessert, carry on a family tradition your loved one enjoyed, start a new family tradition or ritual.
2. Give a toast in your loved one’s honor or recognize their loss: This can be done as a family or privately. Some ideas include lighting a candle for them at the holiday event/meal, leaving an empty chair for them at the holiday meal, sharing family memories of the loved one, using wish paper to send a wish to your loved one.
3. Write or journal: Grief needs an outlet. Write a letter to your lost loved one or just write stream-of-consciousness style to outlet your thoughts and feelings. You could read this writing again, leave it at a burial site, burn it, or never again think about it. Try to honor what feels right to you.
4. Try to lean into trusting yourself: Again, grief is a process. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the process or like you are “going crazy.” Try and trust yourself and your experience and remind yourself that you are grieving and that these symptoms are normal in grief.
5. Reach out to friends and family members who get it: Reach out to others who can sit with your emotion without feeling compelled to offer advice, who have felt supportive in the past, or who have experience with loss in their own lives. It’s okay to let them know that you are hurting or grieving, that you don’t need them to say or do anything, but just be in it with you.