One of the inescapable truths about growing older is that we’ll become more familiar with loss. What we may have escaped when we were younger, if we were very, very lucky, will catch up to most of us as time goes on. It’s the inevitable circle of life. But as difficult as losing a loved one can be, grieving at this time of year can be even harder to endure.
During the holidays, you may find yourself standing all alone in the midst of others’ celebrations. Or struggling with familiar traditions that once brought such joy. When someone we love is gone and our grief is raw, these constant reflections on happier times can amplify the sadness we feel.
One way to approach the season is to simply stop and ask yourself what you can handle. Some customs may be comforting but there may be others that are just too painful to carry out. Having an honest discussion with yourself and your family can go a long way in helping you make it through the holidays.
“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on,” physician and writer Henry Havelock Ellis once said. As baby boomers, most of us have gotten better through the years at life’s juggling act. But when you’re face-to-face with both the holidays and grief, what traditions to keep and what to let go are not easy questions to answer.
Accepting that we can’t recreate the same feelings and emotions from years past, no matter how hard we might try isn’t easy. But if you find there are customs you can’t face this year, it might help to create new ones that gently acknowledge your loss and honor the memory of your loved one.
Here are a few suggestions to use as a starting point. Yet keep in mind each family is different and what might work best for one wouldn’t for another. Also, remember that a commitment isn’t required. Next year you may feel differently or even want to reintroduce a custom that you find you missed.
Traditions and customs are important in our lives and they’ve also been found to help us cope with loss. A Harvard Business School study found that mourners who performed rituals were able to overcome their grief more quickly. These were private or personal practices that went beyond the public customs typically observed when a loss has occurred. Rituals, it was discovered, helped restore a sense of control when the feeling of losing a loved one is often chaos.
Someone told me once that when we’re grieving we live in a perpetual presence of absence. Our thoughts are focused on who or what is no longer there. We may feel we can’t let go of the old way of doing things, even if painful, because we’ve already lost so much. But sometimes creating new ways to remember and pay tribute can help even more.
When we’re struggling to regain our footing, we gravitate to what can anchor us. Traditions, old or new, don’t have the power to bring happiness to our holidays, but they can once again tether us to our family and friends and provide respite in our grief. And if we can find a way to recognize our loss and reflect on what we need, even if only to help us take another step forward, that is much to be grateful for this season.
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