Losing a loved one is hard enough and the emotional stress can be compounded if it happens right before the holidays. The Christmas holiday generally includes themes of togetherness and love. It might be a difficult holiday to even think about celebrating, much less go about planning this painful first.
Christmas is full of traditions you likely shared with your deceased loved one. You may be wondering if these same traditions are appropriate now, or even if you can handle celebrating them.
Celebrating Christmas After Loss
How do you decide what traditions to keep? Should you celebrate at all? Here are a few tips to help you decide how to celebrate Christmas after a devastating loss, and how to do it if you do.
Do you want to celebrate Christmas at all?
Many times we can get caught up doing things because we feel like we’re supposed to, or other people need us to. And, especially if you’re dealing with the trauma of a loss, you may not even realize you’ve been caught up in that kind of thinking.
Give yourself permission to decide about Christmas this year. Depending on your circumstances, you may decide to opt-out of some or all of the holiday festivities. Shelving tasks like sending cards, buying presents, and all of the holiday cooking and baking could do wonders for your soul and allow you some time to rest and recuperate. If there ever was a year to escape either on your couch or to a sunny beach, this would be the year.
If circumstances, like small children, do require you to celebrate the holiday in some fashion, be very clear with yourself about why. Maybe you have small children who would be additionally devastated without Christmas. Yes, it may seem like you “have to”, understandably, but if you’re able to take that reason and say yes, what might seem like an unbearable task may feel a little lighter. Maybe your reasons are that you enjoy Christmas and want to create some joy in your life. Whatever your reasons are, know them and say yes fully.
Make a list, and keep it light
As much as you’re able to, stay organized. Celebrating Christmas this year doesn’t mean that you have to do everything you’ve done at other Christmases. You may be in a bit of a daze still, after your loss. If you’re having problems focusing, that’s a normal side effect of grief. Set yourself up for success by making your own Christmas list of holiday traditions and tasks. Christmas tree, check. Presents, check. Your loved one’s favorite Christmas cookies, check. Christmas Eve open house with turkey, duck, and ham? Yeah, maybe not this year. If you’re having trouble deciding what traditions to keep, ask yourself two questions:
- Do I have the resources (time, energy, and money) to do this? This is a very practical way to make decisions, and given your year, a good way to protect yourself.
- Second, think about the tradition and ask yourself: does it bring me joy? If the answer is no, give yourself permission to consider changing it or not doing it at all.
Once you’ve written your list, organize it by what traditions and activities are your top priority. This allows you to focus your time and energy on what things are most important to you. And, if you don’t get to the end of the list, it’s ok, because those were the lowest priority items. And well, you’ve had a challenging year.
Enlist the help of friends and family
Don’t go at it alone. Much of the preparation for the holidays can easily include another person or turn into a group gathering and activity. Who doesn’t love to cook, or bake, with an extra set of helping hands, and the company they offer? Turn holiday tasks like addressing Christmas cards, baking cookies, and decorating into a gathering of friends and/or family.