Fall is well underway, and we’ve officially entered the holiday season. As we all know, as fun as this time of the year appears on paper, it can and is stressful. Whether you’re traveling afar, hosting a crowd of people, or dealing with it alone, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s back-to-back can be overwhelming. Self-care can take a lot of forms, but today let’s focus on tips to cope with grief during the holidays.
As a disclaimer, I should say upfront: I’m not a grief counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Nothing I say here is intended to take the place of a trained professional. It is only my goal to share certain difficult aspects of my life and strategies I use to handle my grief two years after losing my husband to liver cancer. It’s important to me to share with you tips to cope with grief during the holidays. It isn’t easy but it’s my hope that posts like today not only provide you a pleasant distraction by continuing with me on my fashion journey, but also a sense of camaraderie as we enter a season that by most accounts shouldn’t be difficult, but oftentimes, is.
Grief can come from a variety of different sources and places, and it can manifest itself in unforeseen ways. You may have lost a loved one this year. You may be estranged from a family member. You may find yourself facing an illness. You may be going through financial hardship. Or it may be something else quite entirely.
Many of you know, I lost my husband of almost 36 years in July 2019. This is the third holiday season I am facing alone. Not alone alone—my kiddos will all be here—but alone in a sense, all of those who have been married will understand. It’s still difficult; not as painful as the first holiday season, but it’s still heartbreaking that I don’t have Mr. Style by my side as I celebrate all the wonderful things this time of year offers. And based on the many questions I receive, I know many of you—my readers—are going through the same thing this year.
First and foremost, know that I’m sorry, and I empathize. There’s nothing I can say—nothing anyone can say—that will make things better in any meaningful sense. But here inlies my first point: this holiday season, it’s important not to deal with grief alone.
You may not know how to make your grief precise—you may not know what to say at any given moment—and the same may be true for the people in your life. I can assure you that our family and friends want to take your grief away—at least in part—but may not know what to do. Words oftentimes fail us.
But don’t try to tackle your grief alone. Take your friend up on their offer for a coffee. Answer that 9:48PM phone call from your sister. Fly out to visit your daughter for New Year’s. Sometimes the sheer act of being forced to articulate our amorphous thoughts and feelings into words is therapy in and of itself. Or, maybe this year it’s time to take the plunge and seek out a therapist.
The point is simple: reach out to the people that make up your life, and allow them to reach out to you. Don’t face the holidays alone.
Grief doesn’t have a timetable. Grief doesn’t have a rule book. Grief does have different stages but it is unique to each and every person. So give yourself grace and space to cope with grief in your own time and your own way. And let your family members do the same. No matter how long it’s been since a family member or friend has died the holidays will bring grief to the top of our minds. Decorating the Christmas tree reminds me of my loss. It reminds me of all the wonderful Christmas’ from the past spent with Mr. Style. And it reminds me of the Christmas’ in the future that I face alone. But I’ve learned it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry. And that it’s more than okay to move forward with my life with a smile and joy in my heart.
Are you responsible for Thanksgiving dinner? Are you hosting a family Christmas this year? Do you have a series of office parties you’re expected to attend this December? Do you have an entire house to decorate for November, December, and January? Do you have Hanukkah gifts to purchase for children and grandchildren?
The holidays bring with them all sorts of responsibilities and expectations. Some of those expectations are brought on by others, but many of them are self-imposed.
Those expectations can create an enormous amount of stress, and if you’re also grieving, that stress can exacerbate the grief and lead to guilt. All of a sudden, you’re now trapped in a feedback loop of stress, grief, guilt, and guilt, grief, stress. It’s not fun. To say the least.
You can break that cycle: subvert expectations. What I mean is this. To alleviate holiday stress and help manage grief, it’s OK to do things a little bit differently this year. If you’re traditionally responsible for at least one or more homemade holiday dinners, scratch “homemade”, and order one from Whole Foods. (I’ve done that many times, and trust me, it’s good.)
If you’re supposed to host family for a week this Christmas, but that feels just a little bit too overwhelming, ask your daughter and son-in-law if they’re willing to. If I’ve learned anything about you, my readers, you all have broad shoulders. You can and do take on and handle a lot. But I’m here to remind you—only because I have to remind myself—it’s OK to be vulnerable and ask for help. Especially during the holidays.
If cutting back on the decorations is going free up a weekend, do it. Spend that weekend taking care of yourself. If skipping a holiday party is going to allow you to grab a drink with an old friend and reconnect, then skip it. What is going to help manage grief more? Personal interactions trump impersonal ones. Every single time. This year, let go of both implicit and explicit expectations. It will help you manage your grief in totally unforeseen ways.
It’s important to remember your loved one so share a favorite story. Honor their memory with a donation in their name. Or set the table with a spot reserved just for them. Even though they’re not physically with us they will always remain in our hearts.
For those of you that follow me regularly, you know the importance I place on family. What do we really have in this life if not family? That being said, family isn’t always easy. Oftentimes, it’s just plain work. But is there any better way to deal with grief than to reach out and bring your family closer? (the power of a hug is actually amazing.)
Stories like this run the full spectrum of existence, but we’re all familiar with them. If we’re dealing with grief, the added complexity of family history, spurred on by holiday expectations, can be a recipe for frustration and sadness. But let’s flip that script for just a minute.
There is no time of year that better allows an excuse to reconnect and rebuild our familia relationships than the holidays. What’s stopping us from picking up the phone and reaching out to a brother we haven’t spoken to in years? What’s stopping us from getting on a plane and visiting a daughter who moved away last year?
The holiday season affords us the power of forgiveness. And it’s always worth exercising. No matter what. Because at the end of the day, family is everything. And even when—especially when—we’re grieving, a hug from a loved one is transformative in a way only words can barely capture.
Today, I shared five tips to cope with grief during the holidays. It’s not an exhaustive list but it’s a start! i) not facing the holidays alone; ii) grief is unique iii) letting go of expectations; iv) honoring your loved one’s memory v) reaching out, and/or reconnecting with family. It’s my hope that one, if not all of these strategies help, at least in part, you deal with any grief you may be facing this year.