As grievers, we need to plan for our emotions as best we can. Taking some time to understand what our limits are, so that we can set some boundaries over the holidays to take care of ourselves will set us up to be able to navigate through the holidays minimizing the dread of the holiday season.
Here are 5 key things to think about for your self-care:
1) It’s important to identify what triggers you may have, that you want to avoid, the people who you want to spend time with, and those who you don’t. What activities you want to take part in and which ones you want to pass on this year. It’s all important to do this ahead of time rather than find yourself in a stressful situation that could take you out for the rest of the season.
It’s kind to yourself to think about it ahead of time, but when you are in the acute stages of grief forward thinking is a huge challenge. You might want to do this with a trusted friend, so that you can bounce ideas off them, and they can encourage you and sometimes give you permission that you won’t grant yourself to skip an activity or get together that you would normally take part in. Let them be your advocate if you cannot advocate for yourself.
Sometimes you may have history to rely on knowing a certain activity didn’t go well the year before, and you can assess whether you are in a better place and you can take on that activity or based on how it went last year and where you are at emotionally, might help you decide to take that activity off the list for this year.
2) Break tradition if that feels right for you. I remember one year after my former husband died; my son did not want to do Christmas at all. However, Christmas day is going to come whether we like it or not. I felt it was better to have a plan at least, on how we were going to spend the day. We brainstormed some ideas such as a pyjama day watching movies, going skiing, going to the movies, and hopping from theatre to theatre for the day, getting on a plane and going somewhere, renting a cabin for a couple of days, or whatever else he wanted to do instead of our traditional Christmas day. The most important thing was that we were together and knowing we could create it however we wanted it to look was very freeing for both of us.
3) Create a way to honor your loved one over the holidays. The ideas are endless. It could be decorating your tree with angel ornaments, or having a special angel ornament to represent your loved one. Planning a special meal that they loved over the holidays, going through old photo albums, donating a Christmas dinner to a family in need in their name, donating a toy to Toy Mountain in their name, gifting something of your loved one, to a friend that you know would appreciate the gesture, send a card to a friend of your loved one, knowing that they are probably missing them too, or any other countless things that would be meaningful to your loved one. It is your memory, you get to create it and enjoy it.
4) Spend some time planning it, just like I have described above. Having it in your head how you are going to spend the holidays and knowing you have taken care of any unpleasant tasks that are now off your list, can free up your mind from stress. Knowing you have a plan for Christmas day can alleviate the worry and anticipation of the day. Brainstorming with family so that we are doing this together and creating it the way that takes care of everyone will support everyone. They may have ideas you didn’t think of and they may have ideas that are very important to them that weren’t important to you since we all grieve differently and honoring our loved one will be unique as well.
5) Keep it real. There are no judgements on how you do Christmas or how you don’t. None of us were born on a Hallmark card or in a Norman Rockwell portrait. It’s your Christmas, keeping it real will help you to feel authentic and who cares what anybody else thinks? They are not going through what you are going through. Grief demands to be felt and you are doing the best you can to feel it all and still exist during the holiday season without your loved one.
Here are some other free resources if you would like to learn more: