Starting New Holiday Traditions
Do you have any family holiday traditions? Perhaps every year on Christmas, every family member had to attend dinner in an ugly holiday sweater? Or maybe if you practice Judaism, young and old alike went to the movies on Christmas and then ordered Chinese takeout? And as far as New Year’s is concerned, perhaps you always watched the ball drop in New York City from Times Square on television and then immediately called your parents to wish them a healthy, happy new year? No matter what your religion or cultural background, family holiday traditions can be meaningful.
But what happens to your holiday traditions if a loved one has died since the last celebration? Do you keep the holiday tradition alive even if you are struggling with grief? Or do you skip the holiday tradition all together? What should you do?
There’s a saying that explains why grief can be so difficult: “As much as you love, it’s as hard to heal.” Grief is an internal process. There isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to handling grief, and invariably it will be different for different people — even within a family. And around the holidays, familial differences can be even more pronounced.
Grief can affect every aspect of our lives. It can be difficult to:
- Feel joy from those activities you previously enjoyed (called anhedonia)
- Sleep, which in turn can compromise your health
- Remember simple tasks
- Socialize and so you shy away from friends
- Pray as you start to question your spirituality
- Let yourself cry
It is totally natural to flip flop across an array of emotions. It can even be cyclical and change depending on what phase you are in your life. Nevertheless, we all have a natural ability to heal our psyche.
Ideas for New Holiday Traditions
If this is your first holiday since the death of your loved one, you don’t have to stick to old family traditions. Feel free to give yourself permission to change it up this season. Nothing prevents you from going back to tried-and-true holiday traditions when you (and your family) are ready.
If the family lost a parent, try making something special with the kids. Give them choices and get them involved. Children are flexible and can adapt to change, sometimes more readily than adults.
When we think of grief, the conjured image is often dark. Therefore, try adding color throughout the house, even in unexpected ways. Instead of candy and chocolate, keep a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter. When you walk by the bowl, reach for brightly colored fruit rather than an unhealthy food choice like potato chips.
Holidays are also a good time to memorialize and remember a lost loved one.
- Light a candle.
- Put out a place setting for the person who is gone.
- Plant a tree.
- Create a butterfly garden.
- Donate to a cause that meant something to your lost loved one.
Do whatever makes you and your family feel better during the holidays.
At Chapters Health System and its affiliates—Good Shepherd Hospice, HPH Hospice and LifePath Hospice, every day is devoted to educating our patients and keeping them in the place they call home. We are dedicated to ensuring that patients, young and old alike, and their families are able to make educated decisions about important healthcare matters. For more information, please call our helpful Chapters Health team at 1.866.204.8611 or send an email to [email protected].
About Phoebe Ochman
Phoebe Ochman, Director of Corporate Communications for Chapters Health System, manages all content and communications for the not-for-profit organization.
Holiday Grief Tips
Grief, especially holiday grief, is like an elephant in the room.
Here are some holiday grief tips that can help.
Communication: Like with almost every aspect of life, communication is important. If you are feeling guilty about not having the holiday spirit and possibility letting others down, share your thoughts. Your feelings are yours and yours alone. If there is disagreement in the house and within your family about the holidays, talk and be honest. Discuss what you’d like to do and what will be too difficult. Compromise goes hand in hand with communication.
Holiday decoration: When the holidays roll around, there are numerous decisions to make, especially when it comes to decorating. Do what is best for you. It is your option whether you decorate like you have in the past or scale it back this holiday season.
Attending holiday parties: Keep in mind that it is entirely up to you whether you attend a holiday party. If you decide to attend, talk to the host before the party so you can find out if there’s a place you can go should you need to take a moment for yourself. Additionally, try driving yourself to the party. This way, if you need to leave early, you are not depending on another individual. You can leave when you’ve had enough holiday cheer.
Gift giving: In the past, gift selection and giving was something you always looked forward to and was always rewarding. But what if this year you can’t face leaving the house to go shopping? Solution: You can always shop online or grab gift cards for the recipients on your list.
Holiday food preparation: Food preparation during the holidays can be a landmine of emotions, especially with the loss of the family matriarch. If this sounds familiar, try splitting the cooking and baking responsibilities., or purchase your favorite prepared foods from a local restaurant or grocery store.
Hydrate: Grief can leave you dehydrated whether you shed tears or not. When a person becomes dehydrated, short-term memory can be affected adversely. So drink plenty of water.
Start a journal: Writing your emotions can help you process what is going on inside your head. Journaling is ongoing support for you — paper or computer —it’s your way to express yourself.
Permission to be sad: During the holidays, it’s okay to give yourself permission to be sad. The same holds true for kids. Allow yourself the opportunity to grieve and cry. On the flip side, if something makes you happy or laugh, go for it.
Over the years and during future holiday seasons, you will probably experience grief bursts, which can be triggered by a million different things: It could be a song, smell, photo or memory. It’s a reminder to us all that we’re human, and we remember the deep bond and love of our lost loved one with our entire being.