How to Cope with Grief Through the Holidays

The holidays are supposed to be a time for togetherness and making family memories.

But what happens when your family isn’t complete?

While everyone around you seems to be celebrating, here you are getting hit with yet another wave of grief that just makes you want to hide until it’s over.

No matter when the loss was, there’s something about the holidays that makes it feel like it just happened. The whole first year, if your loss was recent, is a litany of “firsts” without your loved one, and the holidays are just never going to be the same because not all of the important people are there.

It is easy to let the grief completely consume us and take over the experience.

It would be easy to just hide until it’s over.

Not decorate and pretend the holidays aren’t happening. But what about the rest of your family? All this does is makes you feel more isolated and like there’s nothing left to look forward to.

You might notice that it’s easy to get stuck in some pretty unhealthy patterns when it comes to stuff like this. Although you tell yourself that you’re only going to hide from the holiday season this one year, it quickly becomes a painful habit of not being able to face this time of year, not celebrating with family and friends, and dreading the weather change.

Perhaps it was your father who died. It was unexpected and fast. You didn’t know you needed to be preparing yourself and now that it’s happened you have no idea how to pick up the pieces of your shattered heart so that you can move on. There are questions you didn’t expect. Who are you without your father? Who are you going to call when you feel frustrated and alone? Who is going to play with your kids the way he did? Your chest feels like it’s collapsing every time you think about it, so the idea of sitting through a holiday dinner pretending that everything is fine just makes you want to throw up.

At the time it might have felt like celebrating holidays had to be either the way it always used to be or not happen at all.

You might have felt as though celebrating would be disrespectful to his memory.

How can you sit here sipping eggnog and smiling blandly while someone else sits in his place at the table?

The problem is that by avoiding the holidays altogether all you are doing is keeping yourself from the only people in the whole world who understand some of what you’ve lost; the other people who also lost him.

Eventually you get to a place where the mere idea of holidays makes your chest tighten and has you running in the other direction. If this were just one year, maybe it would make more sense to shelter yourself in this way, but the unfortunate truth is that when we avoid events like these because we don’t want to feel everything that comes up, it only gets harder to face it the next time. By not giving yourself the opportunity to process your feelings and move through the experience, painful as it is, you are teaching yourself that you are not capable of getting through this, and it will cause more avoidance later.

The holidays are hard for a lot of people, and grief is one of the major reasons this time of year is so fraught.

It’s okay to need to go slowly, to need to take breaks, and to not push yourself too hard.

Facing the holidays after losing a loved one is an incredibly painful experience; there’s no denying that. However, if we can learn how to move through the holiday season in a thoughtful and careful way, we can allow ourselves to experience some of the holiday spirit. When we learn how to incorporate our lost loved ones into our holiday rituals it is entirely possible to feel like we are honoring their memory and still loving and appreciating the people who are left behind.

Keep reading to learn how to get through the holiday season with a bit of holiday spirit.

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Lost in grief

Grief is debilitating. You have already lost so much, and now grief has taken the brightness out of the holiday season and left you feeling decidedly un-celebratory.

You find yourself staring at the lights you usually love and feeling empty and hollow instead.

Living this way is empty and depressing, and you can’t imagine having to continue on like this.

Find small joys and honor your loved one’s memory

Although the grief threatens, at times, to overwhelm you, you can re-define what the holidays mean to you, so that you can celebrate with the people you love and still remember the people you’ve lost.

When we choose to create new rituals to honor the loved ones we have lost, there is the possibility of getting to have the holidays with the rest of your family and stay connected with less guilt and without the gaping hole of the missing person.

You can create new rituals to incorporate into your holiday so that you can grief together with the people who love you and understand what you’ve lost, so you can continue to make new memories, without just forgetting the person who died.

How to create new rituals to build into your holidays

You might be being crushed by the weight of having to celebrate the holidays without your loved one. One way to honor your loved one’s memory and allow yourself an opportunity to experience the holidays with the people who love you is to create new rituals to honor your loved one. Making these new rituals may seem difficult at the outset, but all you are really doing is creating an outlet so that you can be honest about what’s going on inside your heart. When you follow these steps, you will be able to find ways to honor the person who died and still feel connected to your family this holiday season.

Take a look at these steps to see how you can celebrate the holidays in a way that feels authentic and respectful of the person who isn’t there this year.

Create new rituals to honor the person you lost

One of the main reasons the holiday season feels so overwhelming right now is that you don’t know how to do the same rituals you’ve been doing year after year without a cherished family member. It makes complete sense that you are feeling guilty for even thinking about celebrating when they can’t be here. Creating new rituals that incorporate your memories of the person who died can help you feel less like you are just moving on as though they never mattered.

1) Consider the Importance of the Person You Lost

When you think about the holidays, what role does this person play in the festivities? Were they the cook? Did they make jokes that lightened everyone’s mood? Maybe they were a pain in everyone’s butt and made everyone decorate the tree or put up lights ‘just so’. Whatever it is that this person would contribute to the experience of the holiday, consider what this meant to you and the rest of your family.

Spend some time thinking about what might be different without them there.

This is very painful, but a necessary part of the process.

In session we can explore this in a contained, safe way. If I notice that you are becoming lost in your pain or having a hard time staying on task, I can very gently guide and support you so that you can come back to yourself. This exploration is harrowing but there are light moments in remembering as well. You might find yourself smiling when you remember how difficult or quirky your loved one was. I can help you notice and spend a bit more time on those memories.

When you explore what your loved one used to bring to the table, you will be protecting yourself from nasty surprises, and also starting the process of identifying where the holes in your holiday experience might be.

2) Consider What Was Important to Your Loved One About the Holidays

When we are working through grief, it is not about distancing ourselves from the person we lost, it is really about internalizing parts of who they were so we can take the best parts of them with us into the rest of our lives. Thinking back on the many holidays you got to spend with your loved one, you will likely be able to identify what the holiday meant to them. They might have said it openly at one point (or many times) or they might have just acted in a way that made it clear what they valued. Maybe the best part of Christmas to your father was sitting in front of the tree with only a fire for light sipping on good whiskey. Maybe the most special part of the holiday for your mom was watching the young children rip into their presents early in the morning.

With my clients, I help them sort through the jumble of memories they have been bombarded with lately so that we can pull out the parts of the holiday that really reflect the values and preferences of the person who died. We do this slowly and gently, so that my clients get to reminisce about their loved one and feel the multitude of confusing emotions that come with the memories.

After you do this you can start to identify what your loved one would have wanted you to do this holiday season.

When you ask yourself the question of what they would have wanted you to do, this process will help you develop an answer to that question.

3) Identify New Rituals You Can Use to Incorporate Your Loved One’s Memory

Now that you know what you would miss the most about not having your loved one with you this holiday season, and you have done some considering about what was really important to them about the holidays and how they would have wanted you to carry on, you have a really good basis to start building new rituals into your holiday. Maybe it is waking everyone up super early instead of your mom. Maybe instead of sitting quietly and looking at the newly decorated tree with your dad, everyone could share a memory they have of your him.

When you schedule with me, I will help you to process the mess of grief and guilt and emptiness you feel.

We will find the small moments of joy.

Joy in reminiscing, joy in sharing these new experiences with the rest of your family, and joy in making new memories.

Developing new ways to honor your loved one through the holidays can help you feel connected to the person you lost, the memories that matter, and the people who are still here. You can celebrate the holidays again, and I can help you get there in a way that feels respectful of your grief.

Schedule a free consultation now.

How To Move On and Feel Better Faster

Feelings can be overwhelming. When you are in a dark place it can feel like you are stuck there and you are never going to feel better. You try to push yourself through and make it go away as fast as possible so you can get to the good stuff, because no one wants to feel sad or angry.

The problem when you try to push past what you’re feeling is you don’t give yourself permission to have your actual experience. You start focusing so much on how you were told you ‘should’ feel, that you don’t get to have your authentic experience.

The big issue here is that it builds up, and you don’t get to lean on the important people in your life. This can cause a disconnect in your relationships, because you are trying desperately to not feel your feelings and no one around you knows why you aren’t interacting like you usually do.

Meanwhile, you are becoming increasingly aware that trying not to feel your feelings actually only makes the feelings more persistent and harder to deal with. It’s a vicious cycle.

So when you try not to let yourself feel your feelings, you end up distant from the people who love you and want to be able to support you, and overwhelmed by your inability to process your feelings. You end up isolating yourself and berating yourself about how weak and stupid you are, when really you are having a normal experience that doesn’t have to be as bad as it feels right now.

He was your first love and you really thought it would last forever. Sure, you were young, but that doesn’t mean the feelings weren’t real. So when he broke up with you out of nowhere, it felt like the world was caving in. No one seems to understand that it feels like your chest is crushing you. They don’t get that it felt like the whole future you had been preparing yourself for and excitedly working towards was just ripped away from you.

But you don’t want to worry anyone. Your mom has enough on her plate, and you don’t want your friends to get tired of talking to you because you’re such a downer.

So you push it down.

At the time, it felt like the only option you had. Just pretend you’re fine and eventually it will go away; it has to. You put on a brave face, and when your parents ask you how you’re doing you smile and say great as you walk out of the house.

The issue with this is that you can’t keep up that facade forever. Trying to feel a thing you don’t feel just leaves you frustrated and fixated on the very thing you are trying to avoid.

Instead of making you feel better and more normal, you just feel worse even longer.

Feeling like you are broken because you can’t seem to move on can be deeply unsettling. It can cause you to hesitate before confiding in the people around you. It doesn’t feel better when your mom gives you that slightly concerned look or when your best friend starts reaching out less.

It just feels like you’re alone.

If you continue to sit in your feelings without giving them space to unravel and be expressed openly, they’re going to get stronger, and harder to manage. You will notice that you feel alone even when you’re surrounded by people and you might even start getting irritable and angry about things that don’t usually upset you.

Eventually, you wind up in a place where you just tell yourself, “You need to get over your shit, everyone else is happy and you will be, too.” Fake it ‘til you make it, right? But inside you’re frustrated, confused, and so sad. The sadness you are trying to pretend doesn’t exist is making it harder for you to live in the moment and enjoy the good stuff that is happening.

This might just be the worst part of the whole thing. When you don’t give yourself permission to feel your sadness, you will spend so much time pushing it and fighting it down, that you don’t get to experience the other very real feelings of excitement or connection with those who care about you.

Everything positive gets drowned out, because you are fighting an internal struggle.

This is so common, and so unnecessary.

It’s normal to feel conflicting feelings about normal life changes and losses that tend to be swept under the rug by those around you. It’s not only okay for you to have these feelings, but it would be weird if you didn’t, so we need to start talking about it.

Society will tell you to ‘choose’ happiness. You hear all the time that if you feel angry or depressed, it’s because you’re not trying hard enough to be happy. But when we give ourselves permission to feel whatever is there in the moment we can feel closer to the people around us, and get through the emotional turmoil faster. If you learn to accept the sadness as a normal part of the process of living, you will be able to feel more connected to the people who love you, and you’ll be able to feel the good stuff, too.

Keep reading to learn how to give yourself permission to feel the hard shit, so you can feel better faster.

Feeling Frustrated and Invisible?

When you are ashamed of your feelings, it can be really easy to get stuck in trying to push away right now. You can’t really communicate your real experience because you’re too busy fighting it, so you feel like no one really sees you.

At the very least you notice that it takes a really long time to move through these negative feelings, which detracts from your experience of anything positive.

Living this way is exhausting, isolating, and frustrating.

Accepting Your Feelings Can Help You Move On Faster

Although you struggle with feeling invisible and frustrated because you are so busy telling yourself that you aren’t supposed to feel the way you do, you can absolutely learn to accept and process your feelings as they come.

If you are able to give yourself permission to accept your hard feelings, you will be so much more able to move through the feelings faster, and stay connected to the people who love you.

You can allow the pain to move through you instead of getting stuck in you, allowing you to experience the nuanced mix of positive and negative feelings.

You can feel the good stuff and move through the bad stuff more easily.

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How to Move On So You Can Feel Better Faster

You really just want to be happy and enjoy life as it comes. But you always seem to get stuck in the hard stuff and it keeps you from being able to live the life you want to live. The key is actually to give yourself permission to feel whatever is there when it is there, so that you can move through it. Although you may believe that if you give in to these negative feelings you might never feel anything else again, you would be surprised what a relief it can be to feel it for a short time.

Then you can come into your moment to moment awareness so that you can feel the next thing.

When you start to follow a simple, step-by-step path, you will start to notice that the negative stuff has less of a hold on you, and you have access to more positive experiences than you realized.

Take a look at these steps to see how you can move through hard feelings faster and more easily.

The Solution is Mindfulness

One of the main reasons you struggle to get past hard feelings, is that you are fighting so hard to not feel it that you are actually making the feeling more intense and constantly re-triggering the thoughts that brought on the negative feelings in the first place. It makes sense that you would be feeling frustrated and stuck, but you don’t always have to feel this way if you can start using mindfulness.

1) Notice the Feeling

The first thing you need to do is notice whatever feeling it is that you are having that you don’t want to have. To be honest with you, this might be one of the hardest things I am asking you to do.

We spend so much of our lives trying to avoid feeling anything negative that we learn to immediately and unconsciously block it out and distract ourselves.

If this is what you are doing, it is going to take some time and practice noticing the feeling when it is there, instead of after you have been fighting with it for a while, making it stronger.

In sessions, I ask my clients to identify what it feels like in their bodies when they feel the negative emotion. We spend a lot of time in our brains trying to logic our way through the feelings, and unfortunately feelings just don’t work that way. It is really important to notice your body sensations that are associated with the anger or sadness.

You will be surprised how much information there is when you start to pay attention. You might notice that your stomach ties up in knots when you are anxious. That your hands make fists, and your shoulders get tense. This will make it much easier to notice your anxiety faster, and then you can do more to take care of yourself.

2) Notice the Resistance and Practice Giving Permission

Try to notice the part of you that is resisting the feeling.

You might notice that it is a script that cycles through your thoughts.

It might sound like someone else, or it might sound like a part of you. There might not be any words at all, but rather a visceral tension or resistance to the experience of the sadness or anger.

Together with my clients I will help them to explore the resistance. We learn how to identify it, where it’s coming from, and what it’s trying to protect them from. The resistance itself likely happens within a matter of seconds, without your conscious knowledge.

If you can learn to recognize the resistance, where it’s coming from and what it is trying to do, you will be able to start giving yourself permission to feel your feelings and interacting with the resistance in a gentle but firm way that gives you space to be exactly as you are in that moment.

The more you resist, the harder the feelings will fight back.

3) Identify What the Need Is and Ways to Meet It

Feelings are messages.

So all that time you’ve been spending trying to push it down or push it away, the feeling is getting stronger and louder because the underlying need you have has not been met. When you touch a hot stove it hurts because your body is trying to tell you that it is not good for you. When you are hungry your body tries to tell you that you need food to be healthy. When you feel angry it is because something is happening that you are not ok with.

When you schedule a session with me I will help you identify which feelings plague you the most, and what that is trying to tell you.

If we have this information we can start to identify what can be done to meet the need.

Now, this might not be something easy or that feels good, and that is something else we can work on in session; deciding how you want to move forward.

If you can know that when you feel angry or sad, it is driving you to meet a need, you get to be so much more empowered in your life and choices.

Being able to move through hard feelings more quickly and easily can give your life back to you. You can finally move through the hard stuff and get to feeling excitement, connection, and happiness again. With me, you can learn to give yourself permission to feel whatever is there in the moment so that you can make empowered decisions about how to support yourself in feeling better and getting your needs met.

Email me today for a free 30 minute consultation.