The first Christmas after Garry died was only two months after his passing. I was very numb and the way I coped was to throw myself into making Christmas as normal and special as possible for my kids. I was surrounded by all of my family and loved ones and I never lacked for company. Despite our grief, it was a good Christmas.
This year I have been overwhelmed with all the tasks and activities that the season brings, coupled with the stress of my daughter having started kindergarten and OH MY GOD, why do they have so many themed days and parties?! I think my biggest concern about surviving this Christmas at this point is being alone on Christmas morning. I really don’t want to be alone, but I can’t keep relying on others to alter their plans for my comfort. I know I will feel sadness, but I very much want to feel the joy of it all too.
I know all too well, though, that when one is grieving the loss of a loved one on a holiday, it is hard to find joy. But, it is possible and I have laid out how I plan to squeeze as much joy out of my favorite holiday, even while I’m hurting.
Finding Joy Even In Grief
Find the blessings. I know it’s cliche, but if you just take a moment to look around at your life from a third-party perspective, what blessings will you find? Do you have a loving family? Do you have good health? Do you have a roof over your head and food on your table? Are you driving a reliable vehicle? Do you have a supportive church family? Were you able to pay your bills this month? Do your kids have warm clothes and gifts under the tree? Were you loved by your lost loved one? Were you cherished by your person? You may have one or many of these blessings. You probably have more, and I hope you do. Take a minute this season to really take inventory of all you have, despite your loss, and give thanks for it.
Be in the moment. We are in such a hurry during the holidays that even those of us who aren’t grieving will miss some of the most joyful moments. Be sure you take some time to slow down and truly soak in the good moments like laughing with friends over coffee after Christmas shopping, or sharing a glass of wine with a co-worker that you’ve been meaning to get to know at the holiday party. Or watching your kids laugh as they try sledding or throw snowballs at each other. I know one of the moments I look forward to the most is getting together with my sister a couple of days before Christmas to watch White Christmas while we drink adult beverages and wear matching Christmas onesies. It’s ridiculous and absurd but we do it every year. It is one of my most favorite things about the season and I fully intend to be in that moment.
Don’t isolate yourself. Sometimes when you’re walking through a difficult valley of your grief journey, like a special holiday, your tendency is to isolate yourself from others. Because it can just be too hard to watch everyone else being merry and bright when you feel like your world will never be merry and bright again. I get it, I really do. But I want you to try not to cut yourself off from the world. Instead, try to let the joy of others permeate the small cracks of your wall of self-protection and let it light up your world, if only for a moment. Instead of automatically saying no to that Christmas party you were invited to, accept the invitation, get all dolled up and give yourself the gift of good company for a couple of hours. Being around people, sharing in their merriment, letting yourself laugh and smile will do wonders for your weary soul.
Know when to withdraw. Having said all of the above, it is also important to know when to give yourself some alone time. Even though it is crucial to your healing to rejoin the living from time to time, it is also just as important to allow yourself the space and time to withdraw into yourself and let yourself grieve. If you need to cry, do it. If you need to scream, find a pillow and let it all out. If you need to watch non-holiday movies and drink some wine in bed, make it happen. Don’t make yourself too busy or too surrounded by people to avoid feeling the pangs of grief when they hit. You will never grow through the pain if you don’t allow yourself to feel it.
Give yourself grace. Above all, stop pressuring yourself. The holidays are hard and stressful and emotional and crazy busy even when you’re not grieving. Add grief on top of all the normal holiday madness, and it can be downright overwhelming. Don’t feel like you have to do ALL THE THINGS just because every other Tom, Dick, and Harry is doing them. This year I have let myself let go of a lot of my own expectations for what the holidays should look like. For instance, I decorated far less than I normally would and I didn’t do our infamous Kindness Elves because I just couldn’t handle the added pressure. At first, I worried my kids would be super disappointed and I would ruin their Christmas. But you know what? They haven’t even noticed and they’re still happily enjoying the season. It’s okay to let some things (or all the things) go if you need to. You can always pick them back up next year.
When you lose someone you love, holidays will never be the same. There will always be a sense of sadness for missing your person during such a special time. But that doesn’t mean that you cannot find joy, even just a little bit, during this season. It can be hard and it may take some work on your part, but you are still blessed to be living this one life and it is your right to soak up as much joy as you can while you’re living it. Finding joy in this season, if not in everyday life, is in no way diminishing your loss or disparaging the memory of your loved one. I promise you, they would want you to be living with the intention of finding happiness again. It would be a shame if you allowed your ability to find joy die with the person who wanted you to experience it no matter what. Don’t let loss steal your joy.