• Brienne Jennings

Making It Through the Holidays: Finding Support After Loss

It’s already November and, I don’t know about you, but the holidays snuck up on me! It’s the time of year when my family gets together to eat lots of food, decorate homes and Christmas trees, and argue over who makes the best mac and cheese (Definitely Aunt Linda, no contest!). This was the time of year where my mom would truly come alive with excitement. She would make her own Christmas wreathes, pick new recipes to try out, and spend as much time with us as possible.


Sometimes, loss will come into your life and force you to face big changes. Although we think of loss as being related to the death of a person, loss can actually be related to a host of events. This could include the loss of a relationship (romantic, friendship, family), a job, your/someone’s health, home, safety, etc. This isn’t an exhaustive list but a note that we have to expand our understanding of loss, especially around this time.


When my mother died, my brother and I decided that we would carry on all of our holiday traditions the same way that we always have. We hosted Thanksgiving at the house and cooked a lot of food. We played the movies we always watched while we put up the Christmas tree. We made way more cookies than we probably should have (considering we ended up eating most of them in one night) and rode around looking at Christmas lights.


The rest of our family was supportive and as wonderful as they usually are. Even though we did the holidays exactly how we would have done them if our mom was still alive, I still felt awful. It was heartbreaking going through the season, thinking about all the things she would have done, the songs we would have sang, the jokes she would have made if she was there for that Christmas. To this day, 11 years later, the approach of the holidays still strikes a grieving chord in my heart. I wish that I had had some guidance on how to make it through that first holiday season without my mom.


As we are heading into this holiday season, regardless of what you celebrate, here are some tips for making it through when coping with grief.


Every tradition doesn’t have to be kept

It may feel important to keep traditions for the holidays the same for a few reasons. I kept traditions the same because I thought by keeping them this way, I would be honoring those who had been lost. If there are traditions that don’t bring you comfort or happiness, it’s ok not to do them. Grieving is hard enough without feeling obligated to do things a specific way. You can change the tradition a little, skip the tradition, or even add new ones.


Find a way to honor the loss

Ignoring grief doesn’t actually make it go away. If we find ways to face our grief, we can begin to incorporate it into our lives. If you have lost someone, maybe this means that you honor the loss by making their favorite food or visiting their favorite place in town. You can light a candle, write a letter to them (not to be sent), or do a project that they would have liked. Grief can absolutely have moments of fun and joy. Finding ways to honor what and who we have lost can be one of the ways we experience these feelings.


You’re Allowed to Have feelings

If you’re sad about the holidays, that’s absolutely valid. You’re allowed to be upset about the holidays and not feel as joyous as you have in the pass. Similarly, you’re allowed to feel happy about the holidays, regardless of the loss. Sometimes, we can feel conflicted about enjoying activities when we have experienced a loss. Almost like we should always feel upset, sad, or angry about the loss. Grief encompasses lots of different emotions and all of them are valid. Give yourself some time and grace in experiencing and coping with your feelings surrounding loss.


Reach out to Loved Ones

Although you may not feel like connecting with people during the holidays because of a loss, it can be helpful to connect with safe people that can be of comfort. Safe people are those that you feel comfortable with, can empathize with you, and who are great listeners. Take care in identifying your safe people! Some folks may not be able to support you during this time. Make a list of people that you can text, call, or spend time with during the holiday season. Remember, safe people can be family, friends, mentors, sponsors, etc.


Prepare Yourself for Discussing the Loss and Maintaining Boundaries

During the holidays, people may try to discuss the loss and its impact on your life. For some folks, this is a welcomed discussion, and it makes them feel good to be asked about the loss. For others, this may be the last thing they want to discuss, regardless of whether it is well-meaning. In either situation, decide ahead of time what you are comfortable with discussing and where you want to place boundaries. This might sound like letting folks know that you’re willing to discuss fond memories of the person you lost, but not wanting to discuss the actual death. This could also mean saying, “I appreciate you checking in on me about this loss, but I’m not comfortable with discussing it right now. Would you like to talk about something else?”


Above all, take the holidays one step at a time and remember to take care of

yourself throughout the whole season. Be well!


If you liked this post, check out our event of the same name, "Making It Through the Holidays: Finding Support After Loss."


Resources

SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662- HELP

Click Here for Grief Resource Network

Click here for Healthy Minds Philly Grief and Loss Resources

Click here for Grief Resources from the American Counseling Association



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