How to Celebrate Christmas After the Death of a Loved One

Christmas is a joyous time of year for most people. Unfortunately, for those who have recently lost a loved one, it can be a difficult time of year. It is hard to know how to handle the holidays with that person suddenly absent from your life. All of the traditions seem inextricably tied to them, and you might not be able to figure out what to do without them. The first year is specially trying. Luckily, there are some things that you can do to help cope. They won’t take away the pain completely, but they will help you with the transition into a life without that special person.

1. Change your traditions. For some, changing the place that you celebrate the holiday helps. Instead of having dinner at your home, try having the dinner at your favorite restaurant, or their favorite. This isn’t always possible, but more and more restaurants are staying open for Christmas. You can also try having it at someone else’s house. If you always did the cooking, try letting someone else be in charge of the meal. The more you change about the day, the easier it will be to deal with the situation.

2. Continue to buy presents for them. This can be just for the first year, or it can be something that you continue to do for years. Christmas shopping can be difficult because inevitably you will see something that you would have normally bought for the person that is gone. It can become a constant reminder that you will never see them again. Still buying the items can be cathartic. After Christmas, you can donate them to charity so that they go to a good cause.

3. Leave a chair for them at the table. This may seem weird, but it has worked for my family. We leave a chair for my brother every year at the dinner table. It helps us to feel that he still has a place in our family, that we haven’t forgotten about him. In some ways, we hope that his spirit is sitting at the table with us.

4. Donate your time. Find a cause that your loved one was passionate about and donate your time to it. Just by doing something that they would be proud of, you can help yourself feel closer to them. You will also get the satisfaction of doing something good for another person.

5. Join a support group. Find a group that understands your loss. There are support groups for people that have lost a loved one to drunk driving, cancer, murder, and Aids. No matter what your circumstances are, there are other people out there who have gone through what you are. This groups offer a place to express yourself without judgment.

6. Give yourself permission to grieve. Don’t feel obligated to stay for an entire party or “cheer up” if you are sad. Its o.k. to excuse yourself from a situation if it is too much for you. If other people don’t understand why you can’t be there, you don’t need to explain yourself. You have the right to spend your Christmas in your own way.

7. Take time to do something that you enjoyed doing with your loved one. If there is a particular place that you always went with them around Christmas, go there. It may seem like a difficult thing, but it can be comforting to do something that you always did together.

8. Write in a journal. Write down your feelings about what you are going through. Sometimes just the act of putting your feelings down on paper can help you deal with your loss. It is something permanent that you can look at later and track you progress. You will never get over the loss of a loved one, but you can see how your feelings have changed over time.

9. Treat yourself. Christmas is a time of giving, give to yourself before you give to anyone else. Do something for you, something that you would never do regularly. You can go for a manicure, take yourself to a move, get a massage, anything that makes you feel good. You don’t have to feel guilty about being happy. A lot of people who are grieving have a hard time justifying having fun now that someone they loved is not able to have fun anymore. Your loved one would want you to continue living your life. Don’t forget this.

10. Get help if you need it. If you are experiencing serious symptoms of depression, seek medical help. The time directly after you lose someone important to you can be very dangerous. Take note of your feelings, are you tired all of the time? Do you feel hopeless or anxious? If you aren’t sure what to look for, there are many self tests online that you can take to see if you are showing classic signs of depression. Please note, that it is only a guide. You should never self-diagnose yourself. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek a therapist’s help. It is a completely normal thing for someone who has experienced a great loss.

My family has done all of these things after the loss of my baby brother. As time goes by, Christmas gets easier. We will never forget him, we have simply found ways to honor him and ourselves through the holiday season. We ignored those comments of “get over it” and learned how to deal with things in the best way we know how. It will not be easy, and there is no quick fix, but with time and help, you can start to enjoy your holidays once again

Inspired by Whitney Levon

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