7 Ways to Survive the Holidays after loss

This post is meant as a complement to what I wrote in August about ways to survive and thrive after the loss of a spouse. Holidays obviously can be difficult for anyone dealing with loss. Admittedly, even this year, my fourth holiday season since my husband died, I’ve really only mastered “surviving.”

Last Thanksgiving I hosted “Friendsgiving” (read about it here). That alienated my daughter. Not knowing all of the invited guest very well, she opted to spend the holiday with her friend’s family. So that didn’t feel right either. This year I asked her what she wanted to do. She asked that we cook a meal together (anything but Turkey) and put up the Christmas decorations.

What have I learned about at least surviving the holidays?

Plan. I think I say this with everything, but planning is key. Leave yourself open for some spontaneity of course, but have a general plan. It’s hard to let the holidays sneak up on you. They are on the calendar on or around the same day every year. But yet sometimes we allow ourselves to live in denial. Don’t. I’ve learned from experience. If you don’t have a plan, you may find yourself at the McDonald’s drive-thru on Thanksgiving like I did two years ago. The only thing more depressing than a holiday alone is eating at McDonald’s.

Create new traditions. Trying to do the exact same thing you always did could increase the feelings of loss and emptiness. For those with children still at home like me, I think it’s important to create new memories that just belong to you. Involve them in the planning. Since my daughter and I started going away for Christmas, we now host a holiday party for all of our friends the week before. That is a big part of our holiday “new normal.”

Acknowledge your grief. This is my twelfth Thanksgiving without my dad. I don’t miss him any less this year than I did in 2006. Sometimes memories will make you smile. Sometimes they will be a crushing weight on your chest and you find yourself tearing up over the holiday music while on line at Starbuck’s. It’s normal to miss the people we’ve spent the holidays with for most of our lives. Just look for ways to get back to smiling.

The best thing I have to offer you is Hope. You will not hurt this intensely forever, but grief is a forever part of who you are and will touch all you become. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  – Michele Steinke-Baumgard, “Surviving the Holidays: 12 Tips for the Grieving” The Huffington Post 12/21/2016 Read full article

Take care of yourself. Self-care should be part of your plan. In addition to continuing your exercise regime (so important to lessen holiday stress for anyone really), but set aside a “me day” or two. Get a massage. Go for a long walk or hike. Do the things that help renew your soul and are life affirming. Make an appointment with your therapist if it will help. I am now an expert at knowing my triggers. I anticipate them. Since I’m now on an “as needed basis” with my therapist, I schedule appointments with her in preparation for these times.

Change your perspective – or your latitude. Grieving. Lonely. These are perspectives we can find ourselves in especially at this time of year. Ask yourself, what’s another perspective? What’s another way of looking at this? Sometimes easier said than done, so I have found a great way to change my perspective is to literally – physically – change where I am. Escape. There is nothing wrong with escaping. It can be part of creating new traditions. The first year after my husband died we spent Christmas on the beach in Mexico, last year with family in Ireland, and this year we are going to Jamaica for five days. There is noting like a warm beach to help change your perspective and make you feel more positive about life (read more about why that is here). Beach vacation not in the budget right now? See #4 and just go for a walk.

Be willing to ask for and receive help. Accept invitations to parties that get you out of the house and help to take you mind off what’s missing. Extend invitations yourself. If you’re not up for hosting, find a friend and go for dinner and movie. Be willing to accept an invitation to spend the holiday with a friend’s family so you’re not alone. And in addition to asking for and receiving help, give it. Rather than spending time alone during the holiday season, volunteer for a local non-profit whose mission is aligned with your values.

Say no. Part of self-care is knowing when we’ve had enough and need time alone. It’s okay to say no. Part of “escaping” might be to just distance yourself from people who may make you feel worse at that moment.

I’m a traditionalist. Christmas decorations have never gone up until after Thanksgiving and you don’t serve anything but Turkey for the holiday meal. But with this being our last Thanksgiving in the house, it seemed fitting that it was just the two of us, and that we break from tradition a little. And I don’t know that my problem this year is necessarily grieving for the past. I probably have more anxiety about future Thanksgivings, and where we will be next year as my daughter becomes a more independent college student and we’ve embarked on a new chapter in our lives.

On Thursday morning we are starting the day going our separate ways. She’s going into the city to the Macy’s parade with her boyfriend, and I’m going to start Thanksgiving the best way I know how: creating a calorie deficit at a local 5k. I’m going to work on being present in the moment, in this Thanksgiving, and not thinking about what next year might hold…at least not until May. Marathon training officially starts next month.

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Over the river and through the woods. Ramsey, New Jersey. November 2017.

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