No matter how you plan for the holidays, or any other special day you shared with your loved one, it is especially important to plan on how you are going to take care of yourself.
Here are some suggestions specifically focused on getting through the holidays.
I hope they help.
1. Take good care of yourself.
Your number one goal needs to be to take good care of yourself. That includes the basics of getting enough sleep and eating well. It also includes being gentle with yourself, allowing yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling, and minimizing the usual stressors of this time of year.
2. Make a conscious choice not to isolate yourself.
As tempting as it is, and sometimes it’s an overwhelming temptation, isolation exacerbates your loss. Social and family connections can go a long way to alleviating the stress that grief adds to this time of year. I encourage you to take advantage of it.
As you do throughout the grieving process, you need to be selective with whom you spend time. It is never a good idea to hang out with people who want you to hurry up and get over it. Nor is it helpful to hang out with those who expect you to put on a cheery grin for the holidays. No, those people can be dispensed with immediately. They are the ones with a problem, and you can leave it to them to solve or not. Do not take those attitudes on as saying anything about how you should grieve or how you should behave during the holidays.
You do want to be around people who understand you are not at your best, who are okay with you falling apart if that’s what you need to do, and who understand how very difficult this time of year is. Not everyone is ready to talk about their loved one, but if you are, the people you want to be with are those who share your memories and love listening to them.
3. Make a plan.
I am a big advocate for being completely selfish while grieving. I also understand family is often a difficult place to turn for support. Those who share the same loss often lack the emotional reserves to support anyone else. Plus your experience of grief may be quite different. Sometimes you experience the same things but at different times.
The one exception is the holidays because the holidays are a family experience. This is the one time when everyone may need to compromise and negotiate a bit. For the most part, I suggest making a plan together.
Note: Not every family can agree or cooperate so it’s important to recognize if that’s the case. Make other plans if necessary.
What’s important here is that you make a plan and let everyone know what it is. Set clear expectations for yourself and others. Talk about it ahead of time to avoid unpleasant surprises. This does take a certain level of self-awareness and vulnerability to pull off, but it is well worth it.
If you can’t decide let someone else decide for you and go along as best you can.
It can also help to have a backup plan. Sometimes the best-laid plans feel all wrong when it comes down to implementing them. Give yourself permission to change your mind.
Paradoxically, allowing yourself to have a choice can make it easier to follow through. When we lock ourselves into a course of action we often end up resisting. Giving yourself permission to change your mind gives you a real choice. When you feel you have a real choice it becomes easier to follow through. Interesting how that works isn’t it?
(BTW This strategy works with recalcitrant family members too. Give them a choice and they will be more likely to go along with your wishes. No guarantees but you vastly improve the odds.)
4. Don’t expect to be joyous throughout but do allow yourself to have fun.
As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, grief is a mixed bag of conflicting emotions. We can go from tears to laugher and back to tears in a nanosecond. The holidays won’t be any different. There will be tears, but maybe not as many as you expect. And there may also be moments of real joy. Make room for all of it, and remember it really is okay to enjoy yourself.
5. Keep it simple.
We all tend to get carried away this time of year. There’s the baking and the decorating and the gift-giving and the hosting. Even in good years, the cards can be an enormous burden. Let it go.
You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to do any of it if you don’t want to.
Don’t create unnecessary complications. If you choose to heat a frozen dinner so be it. If you don’t want to go shopping, order a gift card online and be done with it. If the Christmas tree is too much, skip it.
You get the idea, right?