UPDATED: Nov. 23, 2023
Grief can have a particular sting during the holidays. Whether it’s the first year without a special someone or it’s been years, grief can take many forms. And the loss of a loved one or the end of a meaningful relationship can impact our ability to be in the holiday spirit.
I remember the first Thanksgiving after we lost my grandmother. It was tough. While it has become a bit easier to manage in the eight years since she has passed, her presence is still missed. She died a month before Thanksgiving, and we opted to call my dad’s favorite Indian restaurant for takeout instead of our usual spread.
Our family soon found a new routine. My grandmother’s loss is still felt all these years later, but we managed to adapt. Years later, we still make her favorite chocolate cake as a homage to her memory.
Things shifted again in 2019 when I became inexplicably ill. I was exhausted and could barely endure the cooking required to meet the expectations of our family gatherings. Little did we know that I would be diagnosed with a rare cancer less than two months later. But I did the best I could and tapped my children, both teens and my sisters, to help where needed.
Last year, I played a support role for my stepmother and her family after her father unexpectedly passed away. More than just the family patriarch, he was and trusted adviser, confidant and friend.
The day before Thanksgiving 2021, the family said goodbye. And now preparations are underway for another family gathering without him. And while his presence is felt, and there is comfort in the young people in the family, it’s not quite the same.
Trying to make sense of loss, I’ve read several articles and guides over the years to help ground me during the holidays. But what I’ve learned over the last nine years is the holidays are what you make it.
Here are a few tips for you and your loved ones to navigate grief this holiday season:
Allow Yourself Grace and Space
As Verywell Health explains, it’s ok not to be ok. That may sound cliché, but it’s the truth. Give yourself the time to understand your new reality. Provide space to feel all the feels and grace for not being the usual doer of the deed.
Scale Back If Need Be
If you’re the family cook, it’s ok if you can’t do the big spread like years past. Maybe it’s time to let some other shining stars in the family take over the macaroni and cheese. Or if you’re usually running around making the rounds, sit down. Listen to your body and adjust accordingly.
It’s Ok to Say No
Sometimes it’s not enough to downsize the festivities. Guarding your boundaries and making sure you have time for yourself is perfectly acceptable.
Gratitude doesn’t mean ignoring your grief
At Thanksgiving, there’s a tendency for people to be super positive and focus on gratitude and being thankful. Being thankful and reflective of the positive things in your life doesn’t mean you have to set aside your grief and feelings of loss. There is space for many things at once.
Find joy where possible
After my step-grandfather’s funeral, the house was full of laughter and joy. It had been a sad day, but the family was just happy being all together. I spent hours captivated by my stepmom’s nieces and nephews, teens excitedly updating me on their lives. They are their grandfathers living legacy, the next generation charting a new path forward.