First Christmas After Loss: How to Survive Grief
Few things are as heart-wrenching as the deep grief of your first Christmas after the loss of a loved one, especially when the rest of the world seems to be joyous and celebrating.
Not only have you lost a dear loved one, but family traditions might be full of extra painful reminders of the person you lost. Even if family and friends surround you, a big piece of what made your holidays special each year will be missing, and there’s simply no way to fill the void. Social situations, celebrations meant to evoke joy, and even seemingly benign moments like a trip to the mall will all be punctuated by a sadness that others may not understand.
If you’re experiencing your first Christmas after loss, here are four ways to survive until January.
1. Be honest with yourself.
There’s so much pressure for grievers to put on a brave face and move forward as normally as possible after a loss. At Christmas, this can mean keeping up with all your typical traditions, attending the parties you go to every year, and finding joy in purchasing or making gifts for your family and friends. In truth, though, this holiday will not be like all the others. Be honest with yourself about how difficult some of your usual traditions may be. Instead of putting on a brave face, allow yourself to lean into the sadness and acknowledge that this Christmas is going to be hard.
2. Be honest with others.
Some people might ask you directly what you do or do not want to do during your first Christmas without your loved one. Others may make assumptions based on their own experiences of grief. In both cases, it’s important to speak up with your true feelings and preferences. You owe it to yourself to carry on the important traditions, leave behind those that feel dissonant now, and protect yourself from social situations that you don’t feel ready for.
3. Honor your loved one with a new tradition.
Whether you’re hoping to keep longstanding family traditions or not, it can be healing to create a new tradition that honors your loved one. It could be something completely private – reading their favorite poem or Bible verse on Christmas Eve or watching their favorite holiday movie with the smell of their favorite coffee brewing. Or, you could opt for something the whole family participates in, like lighting a candle in your home for your loved one and sharing aloud your most cherished memories.
4. See a grief counselor.
Your first Christmas without your special person will undoubtedly be one of the most difficult moments along your grief journey. There is no shame in seeking professional help, especially when everyone around you may seem consumed with the joy of the holiday season. Talking through your feelings and worries with a counselor can be cathartic in and of itself, but you’re also likely to leave with ideas for healthy ways to cope that will serve you during the holidays and beyond.
Your first Christmas after a loss will be challenging in many ways, but it’s possible to make it through. Are you using any of the above tactics? Please share your experiences in the comment section.