Monday, December 21, 2015

How To Survive The Holidays After Losing A Loved One

I must confess, I'm having a little trouble getting into the holiday spirit this year. I don't say this in a bah humbug, Scrooge-y sort of way because I'm so grateful to be around the people I love the most, but because I feel like this year -- so much more than in recent years -- I'm looking at everything through the lens of feeling like a part of our family is missing.

I see it everywhere, the classic holiday tableau: stores decked out in holiday decorations, families out and about in the snow, Christmas trees aglow with strands of twinkling lights. And through all this, through all those images, I just see my father. Everywhere. Because he's in every single happy childhood holiday memory I've ever had. From my early memories up until the very last Christmas we shared as a family -- just three months before he died.

Maybe that's why, more than ever, I've been having this sort of internal monologue with myself lately. The words may vary, but it always goes something like this...

"Why is it that we celebrate the holidays like the people we've lost never even existed? My father was a person and his life mattered. He deserves more than just a footnote in history."

Celebrating the holidays following the death of a loved one can be beyond difficult. Honestly, it can be downright brutal.

Everything seems to mirror the cold winter -- you find yourself in a dark place, the territory is completely unfamiliar and your emotions can be all over the place. Looking back now, I'm not even sure how we got through that first Christmas after my father died; we must have been running on autopilot because we drove all the way down to Alabama to visit my grandfather. But that doesn't mean that our emotions stayed at home. They followed us those 1,000+ miles, and there was simply no way that we could escape our grief, no matter what we did or how far away from home we traveled. I guess that sort of wild intensity will just follow you anywhere.

So what am I to do this year, especially when I can feel some of those melancholy emotions bubbling to the surface again? What are we all to do?? Sadly, we've all lost someone close to us and it's HARD -- really, really hard at times -- and I've been thinking over the last few days of ways to "survive" these next few days. Here are four things I've come up with...

1. Talk, talk, talk: Yes, I know that this may be hard and painful for some people, but it's far, far better than stuffing your emotions down deep into the recesses of your heart where they're only going to eat away at you. Talk about the person. Talk about their life. Tell stories (I'll be posting about this one in a couple days, actually...). Make everyone feel like the person you lost is right there celebrating along with you. No one wants to be forgotten, especially during the holidays, which is why it's so important to keep your past alive and part of the conversation.

2. Traditions: Nothing says "Merry Christmas" quite like family traditions. Whether they're big or small, old or recent, those rituals can be quite a powerful force for connection and reflection. Every year, my mom makes tons of almond cookies, which were my grandmother's signature recipe. They remind me so much of her and I often find myself smiling just thinking about them. Find something that you loved doing as a family and keep that tradition going.

3. Surround yourself with family: I know, this one should be a no-brainer. After all, your family are the people who know you the best and can fully understand what you're going through -- chances are, they're going through it themselves. Being there for each other is definitely one of the greatest gifts you can give. You'd be surprised just how much people appreciate a listening ear and a soft shoulder to lean on.

4. ...But don't feel guilty for wanting alone time: I've struggled with this one over the years. It's not that I don't want to be around people, but sometimes, I just need my space. We all do, don't we? We need some distance to sort through our emotions, process what's happened and otherwise just "be." Now is the time to do what is best for you and find those little moments of peace and comfort.
The Hospice Foundation of America offers these helpful tips and here is a great list of things you can do to help yourself through the holiday. What would you add to the list, friends? What helps you during this time and how do you keep your loved one's memory with you? To everyone who is struggling this year, know that I'm with you! xoxo

[Photos via We Heart It]


  1. Last year (2014) we lost three members of our family. My mother-in-law, my Auntie and My cousin. Last year we made sure that each of these was remembered at Christmas. My Mother-in-law has her place in a star decoration on our tree and her photo is on our wall. We even had her drafted into one of our wedding photos with my father-in-law seeing she passed before our wedding. They are never forgotten. Happy Holidays Melissa xoxox

  2. It is so very hard to celebrate when your heart feels like it is broken. You have said what many of us feel and I agree with you, talk, talk, talk and perhaps even shed a tear or two. I hope that surrounded by the love of your family and friends you find a little solace in the memories of your father.

  3. Wonderful article, Melissa! Let's talk about many memories this year!


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