Echoes of Bereavement at Holiday Time

The First Holidays Are the Hardest

The holiday season brings comfort in tradition and ritual.  At the heart of many celebrations, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and others, are patterns that have comforted us throughout our lives.  The rituals, the food, the family gatherings.

When someone has lost somebody special in their lives, whether a spouse, family member, or friend—even a pet—everyone knows they’ll go through a period of mourning.  Others become attentive to their loss, solicitous about their needs, and keep watch over their mental state.

If the death occurred early in the year, however, it’s easy to think grief is long over by year’s end.  But the holiday season can prompt a heady swirl of nostalgia and heighten feelings of loss.  The “first” of each yearly celebration—birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas—can resound with the echo of the original loss.

The grandparent who never failed to dress as Santa for his grandchildren.  The aunt who made the best latkes.  The friend who always hosted the New Years Eve party.  Their loss, whenever it occurred in the year, will leave a hole in the celebrations, as well as in the hearts of those gather to celebrate.

If you have lost someone special recently, here are a few things you can do to help get through the first set of holidays without your loved one:

Take the lead.  Others may not be aware how difficult the holidays are going to be for you to get through.  Or they may feel uncomfortable addressing the topic unless you do first.  Open the conversation.

Cut yourself some slack.  There’s no timetable for grief so don’t worry that you should be “over it.”  Accept that you might feel sad, angry, or even happy, during the holidays.

Introduce new traditions.  This year will be different anyway.  Perhaps it’s time to retire some traditions if they no longer seem right, or start something new that honours the memory of the one you’ve lost.

If you know somebody who has lost someone special in the year, here are a few things you can do to help make the holiday season easier:

Start the conversation.  Acknowledge that the holidays can be tough on the recently bereaved.  Just raising the topic helps.

Offer to help.  What can you do to make the holidays better?  Offer to step in and fill in a role the deceased formerly did, or to talk to other family members to increase awareness and understanding.

Don’t push.  Let the bereaved person decide what’s right for them.  Don’t try to force them to do, feel, or think anything if they don’t feel up to it.

Honour the memories.  Gatherings of family or friends are good opportunities to remember what a special place the deceased had in your lives.  Share stories and special memories.  Show the bereaved that you, like them, have not forgotten.

There’s no manual for grief nor rules for bereavement.  Each individual forges their own path through the process.  A heightened awareness of the echoes of bereavement during the holiday period can help everyone get through the first holidays with that someone special.