Coping with Loss During the Christmas Season
Christmas cheer is far from your mind right now, but it feels like it’s being shoved down your throat. Even though you’ve just experienced a major loss, you feel like you’re expected to be joyful. Do you really have to pretend that everything is fine in order to keep the “Peace on earth, good will toward men?”
When facing a loss, Christmas seems like anything but merry and bright. Instead, the happy glee makes you feel sick to your stomach, ready to curl up into a ball and hibernate until Spring Fever kicks in. Whatever your loss – divorce, death or a breakup – it’s important to realize that facing your current circumstance is more relevant than the rituals of the holiday. Grieving is difficult but recognizing the truth will help you grow from your experience. Here are some tips to consider when struggling through the Christmas season.
Embrace the Grief.
Don’t avoid it, or ignore it. If you’ve experienced a recent loss, it’s important to recognize the reality in which you now live. Rather than pretending the circumstance didn’t happen, accept it.
Say it like it is.
Don’t be afraid to use the words died, passed away, divorced, separated, broke up. Leave the sugar coating for the cookies. Certainly, you don’t want to be brash with how you speak of your situation or the person, but don’t avoid the truth. Don’t be inappropriate, but be honest. Bringing it out in the open can help everyone heal. Even if you’re embarrassed about the situation, talking to those you love will help you come to terms with your loss.
Manage Your Emotions.
It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to scream. It’s okay to yell. And, yes, even though you’re hurting – it’s okay to laugh. You’ll experience all these emotions and that’s good and healthy! If you need to, utilize a tool to help pull these emotions out. Go outside and shoot some hoops, pretending that you’re throwing the ball at the situation. Scream into your pillow and throw it across the room. Cuddle up with your favorite teddy bear and let it soak up your tears. Or, watch Elf and allow yourself to laugh during the entire movie.
Guilt is an emotion that sets in for a lot of people who are experiencing grief. It’s healthy to recognize this emotion, however, guilt can become consuming – which is not healthy. Guilt may keep you from coming to terms with your loss. It allows you to replay scenarios in your head, hoping and wishing you had done or said something different. Guilt causes you to focus on the worst parts of yourself, rather than your true identity. You are a beloved daughter of God, and He will mend any broken heart and make goodness come from any past regret. Rather than burying yourself in guilt, ask God to help you guard your heart and heal your wounds while revealing the beautiful plans He has for your life. Replace the unrealistic “What-ifs” with positive memories and exchange the negative “Should-haves” with positive self-talk.
Separate Yourself From Your Situation.
If you’re around people who are overly emotional about the situation and it’s becoming overwhelming, then it’s okay to find some space (as long as you’re not hiding from the loss). You’re not the only person experiencing the hardship, but that doesn’t mean you need to surround yourself with these people.
Maybe your parents consistently fight with each other when they drop you off at one another’s home. It’s okay to leave the room. Politely say you’ll go wait in the car, hall or your room.
Does your mom cry at every tiny Christmas detail that reminds her of her belated father? Give her a hug and then tell her you’ll be at the mall or your BFF’s if she needs you.
You love your best friend, but every time you hang out she looks at you with sad puppy dog eyes and asks you if you’re doing okay after your beau called it off. It’s okay to hang out with other people for a change of pace.
Do Something For You.
Grieving is exhausting, so treat yourself. It’s important, especially during this time of year, to take care of and nourish your mind, body and soul. Give yourself a mani and pedi. Soak in the tub with Christmas scented bubble bath and candles. Eat some peppermint ice cream with extra hot fudge sauce. Buy yourself an early Christmas present. Whatever you do though, do it in honor of YOU – not the person you lost. Remind yourself how beautiful you are, how precious and creative you are. Tell yourself all the amazing qualities God instilled in you. Use this time to care for yourself so you can be re-energized and able to meet the next hurdle that comes your way during this time of grief.
Do Something Different.
If you just don’t think you can bare the traditions that you used to enjoy, then do something entirely different. You don’t have to go through the motions if it doesn’t feel right. Take a hiatus as long as you feel comfortable while you’re grieving, then add those favorite traditions back in as you heal.
Do What Works
It’s helpful to seek the advice of others who have gone through a similar experience. Their suggestions on how to heal during the grieving process may be incredibly helpful. But, don’t be afraid to disregard what they say. It’s only a suggestion. Just because something worked for someone else doesn’t mean that it’ll work for everyone. If someone’s suggestion doesn’t help you, then it’s fine to do something that you find helpful instead. Find what works for you and stick with it. The healing process is a very personal process.
Remember the Season.
Even though it’s devastating to have lost a loved one, don’t forget the reason family and friends gather for Christmas. Jesus is a healer and He wants to heal your heart. Offer up prayer requests of healing for yourself and everyone involved. Attend a live nativity, sing Christmas carols about the birth of our Savior and let Him remind you that His life (and death) is far more significant than any life that was here on earth. That may be difficult to comprehend while you’re in the midst of grieving, but if it weren’t for the birth of God’s son, our own life would have no merit.
Here are some ideas on how you can honor your new situation:
If you’ve experienced a death in the family, then honor that person during Christmas:
- Set an extra plate for them at the table.
- Wrap an honorary present for them and place it under the tree. Play a game to see who will receive the extra gift. The game can be played every year, so a different person receives the gift!
- Share a gift that they enjoyed. For example, if the person you lost loved chocolate, place a box of chocolates under the tree and let everyone indulge in some sweet memories!
- Buy an ornament that honors their life and have it be the first decoration placed on the tree every year.
- Light a candle in a location that was dear to them and let it’s gleam remind you of their presence.
- Reconstruct an item that was treasured by them to create a special gift for those who are grieving.
If your parents recently separated or filed for divorce, then begin a new tradition with each set of parents. Make the tradition special for your parents and siblings as well, because they’re also sad that the family traditions are changing:
- Establish a unique tradition that compliments the relationship you have with each parent. Maybe you and your dad love watching sports together, so plan a night where the two of you grab a pizza, and watch a game while baking Christmas cookies or wrapping Christmas gifts.
- If your mom always bakes the treats and your dad’s horrible in the kitchen, then create a festive goodie that’s easy to make (like Oreo cookies dipped in white chocolate and decorated with sprinkles) and spend the afternoon at your dad’s house working on this new family tradition.
- Rather than just hitting the mall with your mom this year, suggest doing something a little more personal – like share a Venti Peppermint Hot Chocolate while shopping for a beautiful scarf that you both can wear throughout the New Year. Or, search for a special ornament that symbolizes how your relationship has grown over the year.
You may have just experienced a break-up and now all your Christmas plans are changing.
- Instead of going to a Christmas dance with your boyfriend, you’ll be going alone. Still look your best and have a plan in place to ask at least one person to dance, even if it’s your best friend who supports you through everything.
- You had plans to go downtown to see the lights, but now you’ll be tagging along with your parents to a neighborhood Christmas party. Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know very well (young or old) and spend the evening focusing on others rather than your ex.
- When possible, change your plans to involve close friends and embrace time with your family. People you’re close to will know the situation and won’t need an explanation.