Surviving the Holidays
Patti Anewalt, PhD, LPC, FT

“I thought I was doing much better. The pain had subsided; I could laugh again.  I was beginning to spend time with friends. My eating and sleeping patterns were back to normal. Then, I had to face my first holiday without him. I felt familiar effects of grief wash over me and it was just like the healing process had never ever begun.                                                                                                           -Anonymous


While the commercial world pushes good cheer everywhere you turn, those who are facing the holiday season without their loved one often feel overwhelmed with feelings of anger, guilt, and an immense sense of loss. It is very difficult to focus on anything good or positive when our hearts ache inconsolably.

There is a lot of pressure to fill the void of the person who died and many try to get through the season by continuing with exactly the same traditions that they've always had. Yet in reality, there's nothing wrong with changing some of these traditions, especially for that first holiday after the loss. It is important to do what feels right for you and your family. Possible solutions should be weighed to see what fits us comfortably.

The holiday season can magnify the feelings of loss. It is natural to feel sad and it is important to share your feelings with others to obtain the support you need. Acknowledging that feeling of emptiness and perhaps commemorating the memory of your loved one through a new ritual can be very helpful. Sharing memories can be a true comfort even if it brings some tears. It may be the nicest gift a family gives themselves during the holiday time.

Many of those who have survived their first year of holidays and celebrations acknowledge that the anticipation of a particular activity or event can often be worse than what actually occurs. Planning ahead, using your inner feelings as a guide, and making a decision based on what feels right for you rather than based on pressure or advice from others works best. There is no right or wrong way to get through the holidays. If you are already grieving before the holidays come around, then there is no question that you are already under stress. So when the hectic holiday season is added, it is very important to be aware of the things which will aggravate or increase your stress level.

Remember to prioritize: what matters most versus what you'd like to do but may not get to. Pace yourself.  Enlist the help of others who care but may not be sure how they can be of support to you. If finances are a stressor, set a budget and stick to it. Remember that love is shown, felt and spread -- it can't be bought with material means--although many of us struggle with the feeling that a little more money to spend would make matters so much easier. So amidst this, remember the blessings that you do have and perhaps list them, so you can refer to your list on the more trying days.

Remember the past holidays when your loved one was with you. Remember, also, those you love who are still part of your life. The memories of the past can strengthen who we are today and help to give us hope for the future.


"Tradition does not mean that the living are dead, it means that the dead are living.”

                         ~Former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan