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"Getting Through the Holidays After the Death of a Loved One" by Carol Schoneberg-Robinson, HSM End-of-Life Educator

Traditionally a time of celebration and gathering of families, the holidays can be an especially difficult and challenging time for those who are grieving the death of a loved one. Though many say they would like to skip the holidays all together, we can neither escape them nor pretend that everything is perfectly normal. I hardly recognize myself—wondering if I will survive, if I will ever again find joy, if what I am feeling is normal. While the response to all of these questions is yes, healing takes time and hard work, and the holidays are often the most difficult part of the journey.

The following are some general guidelines that many people helpful in getting through the holidays without the one who has died:

Express your feelings: Feelings of loneliness and isolation are common, even when surrounded by those who love you. The surest road through grief is to feel it and express it to a good listener who is not afraid of your grief.

Plan ahead: Knowing that this year’s holiday will not be the same as when your loved one was alive, it is helpful to have a plan for the day. Often, the more we try to recreate the past, the more obvious is our loss. For some, changing a tradition can be freeing and satisfying. Allow yourself to be cared for by others.

Honor your loved one: Lighting a candle in memory of your loved one, sharing your favorite memories about him, or reading her favorite poem can bring meaning and healing to the day.

Harbor hope: Hold onto hope—hope that by staying open to the demands of this experience you will grow as a person, and that in struggling with the depth of your feelings you will be strengthened as a human being. With hope you can heal and move forward and once again find meaning and joy in life.

Death teaches us that every day of life is precious. The best gift you can give yourself this holiday season is to listen to your heart and give yourself permission to choose what’s best for you. Be gentle with yourself, and know that you can and will find your way through the holidays and the days that follow.

Written by Carol Schoneberg-Robinson, HSM End-of-Life Educator and Bereavement Services Manager

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