How To Navigate The Holidays When A Loved One Is Grieving
My maternal grandmother passed away just before Thanksgiving and my paternal grandmother passed away just before Christmas a few years later. I still remember how painful those holidays were for my family, even after all these years. Dealing with grief is hard enough, but it can be especially difficult during the holiday season.
If your family is struggling with grief and the upcoming holidays, there are ways to manage the grief and honor your loved one. I recommend discussing the holidays with your grieving family member in advance to discuss what he/she will be comfortable with in terms of celebrations. Everyone is different so don’t assume that what you would want is what your loved one will want.
Managing Grief During the Holidays
If you are preparing to discuss the upcoming holidays with your loved one, here are some things you can suggest to help them with their first holiday season without their loved one.
- Change The Traditions: One thing my family did in the first year after a cousin’s death was move the venue of our annual holiday party. Every year we have a big family Christmas Eve celebration with all of the aunts, uncles and cousins at my parent’s house. However, after the death of a cousin and uncle in the same year, we moved the event to a different cousin’s house so that it felt new.
- Forgo The Celebrations: If you normally have large family gatherings during the holidays, you may want to consider taking a year off, or at minimum, modifying them. When both of my grandmothers died, my brothers and I were young so my parents didn’t want to “cancel” Christmas. Instead, we had a very low-key holiday. Essentially, it was just our little family, church and a small gift exchange. My aunts didn’t celebrate Christmas at all that year. Do what your loved one is most comfortable with. Sometimes it’s nice to have a sense of normalcy, but it is perfectly OK if a grieving family member isn’t up to it.
- Honor The Deceased: Perhaps your grieving loved one wants to proceed as usual with holiday celebrations because he/she doesn’t want to alter the holidays for others. Or, maybe the deceased loved the holidays so it doesn’t seem fitting to cancel Thanksgiving. In those situations, you can find a way to honor the deceased family member during your celebrations. Perhaps the meal is comprised of his/her favorite foods or perhaps you all share stories of the deceased. Talk to your grieving family member about how they would like to honor their loved one.
- Make A Big Change: If you know you need to alter the holiday and you know it would be best to skip the holiday but you don’t want your grieving family member stuck home alone, consider taking a trip instead. Going to an entirely new place and living life as usual may help them manage their grief. Sure, it will still be Thanksgiving back home, but in France, there are very few reminders of American Thanksgiving.
- Honor The Grieving Person’s Wishes: If your loved one asks to skip the holidays or asks to celebrate as usual, honor their wishes. Don’t assume they don’t know what they want, unless of course they’ve been showing signs of depression and you are concerned.
Handling the first holiday season after a loss is difficult. The best thing you can do is be understanding and let your grieving loved one guide the way. If he or she is unsure of what they would prefer, proceed as usual but be prepared to make changes if you notice that your loved one is upset. There really is no right or wrong way to deal with the loss of a loved one, so just be there and be sensitive.