Choosing how or where to spend the holidays may be your biggest dilemma. There is no perfect solution. Holiday time may be hard no matter what you do or where you are. The choices are to celebrate as usual, avoid the holidays altogether, or do something entirely different.
Celebrate as usual. Many people wish to keep their holiday traditions intact, to celebrate as usual. This way is bound to be painful, accentuating the gap left by the loss. It is fine to follow family traditions as long as you know they cannot be the same as before your loved one died and you have the energy to do so. Pretending you can recreate the past may cause you more grief. Just remember to allow any feelings as they occur.
Avoid the holidays. It is not wrong to want to avoid Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas or other holidays entirely. If celebrating seems too difficult to bear, you can choose not to observe the holidays and go somewhere else – skiing, a cruise, a resort, a different city. If you cannot afford to travel, walk in the woods, go to the beach, the movies or some other distracting or quiet place. There is no guarantee that this will erase your pain, but it may lessen it some.
Do something new and different. If NOT celebrating would deeply disappoint or deprive children or other family members, you probably cannot run away from them. Yet, you can avoid repeating your traditional ways and perhaps observe your holidays more simply than before. People often work too hard cooking, decorating, planning, shopping and entertaining at holiday times, so you may want to consider easing up.
Often, the more we try to recreate the past, the more obvious is our loss, so changing tradition can be a freeing and satisfying way to spend the season. You can celebrate Thanksgiving, Chanukah or Christmas in a brand new way by going to the home of a different relative or friend, having a family reunion away from home, or eating in a restaurant. You can do anything that will make your holiday experience new rather than a memory with someone in it missing.
If it’s too hard for you personally to think up a new way to do the holidays, give the job of planning to a creative friend or relative. Again, most important in taking care of yourself is not to feel you have to do it all – whatever the circumstances.
Grief is a natural part of life when someone we love dies. Finding your way through the changes and often painful emotions that arise during the days, weeks and months that follow a death can be difficult. You don’t have to do it alone. Hospice of Santa Cruz County has helped thousands of people through their grief journey. If you’d like information on our services available to help through our Grief Support Program, please call (831) 430-3000 or visit our website at www.hospicesantacruz.org/patients-family-community/grief-support-services.