Great, Another Holiday: Surviving the Holiday Season

It’s happening again. Every fall as the costumes and pumpkins come out, the turkey and dressing get stocked, and the Christmas songs ring in every store…the looming dread of the holidays.

The holiday season hurts and can be brutal for those missing a loved one. It’s full of traditions, reminders, and an empty chair of the person you want the most to be there. This season will add to your grief, but every holiday season doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

Five years ago, I lost my mom to cancer, and one year ago I lost my younger brother to homicide. Needless to see, the holidays have stung for a while and haven’t seemed to change. But as the years pass and more holidays come and go, I’ve learned some things that have helped me to survive another round of holidays.

  1. Make New Traditions/Rituals
    • The pressure is there to continue the traditions that you had with your loved one before they passed. Unfortunately, things have changed and so do our traditions. And that’s fine. This is not to say you can’t have the old traditions because they are soothing. However, it can be hard to hold that expectation, and starting new ones may be less painful. The holidays don’t have to look like what they used to be. Allow yourself to reflect on the new reality.
  2. Set Realistic Expectations for Yourself
    • Loss changes you. The holidays can promote high expectations of how to be along with the expectations we have for ourselves. That’s a lot of pressure. Give yourself permission to be real with where you are. It’s already a stressful time and you don’t need to add more on top of everything you’re experiencing.
  3. Say NO
    • That’s it. That’s the sentence. If someone invites you to a gathering, but you’ve checked in with yourself and don’t want to go, say NO. If someone tries to force you to be happy when you’re not, say NO. No one can force you to say yes. Give yourself that permission to say NO and do what feels right for you.
  4. Tune in to Yourself
    • Check-in with yourself to see how you’re doing and what you need. Whether that is doing a body scan, or taking a moment of silence, give yourself that time to see how you are. And Don’t let others tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing on holiday.
  5. Don’t Force Yourself to be Happy and Don’t Feel Guilty if You Do
    • Grief isn’t linear. Let me say that again. GRIEF IS NOT LINEAR. It has its ups and downs, waves, tangles, etc. There are days I hop between anger, sadness, frustration, and numbness, and there are days I find myself forgetting my losses because I’m happy. Then a sense of guilt waves over me. But it’s okay. Grief has many feelings underneath it and it’s okay to feel or not feel them all, but don’t allow others to force you to feel a certain way just because it’s a holiday.
  6. Communicate Your Needs
    • This can be tough especially if you struggle to ask for help or tell others what you’re feeling, but when those who love you are aware of your needs, they know how to better support you. Also, don’t get upset if someone doesn’t know how to help but you haven’t communicated. We can’t expect others to read our minds.
  7. Give Yourself an Exit Plan
    • Have a plan and an exit plan before you leave your place. Give yourself an out that lets you know your time is up. Also, make sure you stick to the plan you’ve set up. You are allowed to leave whenever you want.
  8. Find Companionship
    • It’s easy to be isolated especially while grieving which can feel like a lonely experience. During the holiday season though, it may be helpful to have at least one person to keep in touch with or visit with who you can honestly share how you’re feeling. Whether it’s a friend, support group, online community, family, or therapist, we do need community.

Remember that whatever you choose to do or not do during the holiday season, focus on what you need and what’s important to you.

What about you? What are some things that help you get through the holiday season? What has helped or not?

Ashyle Horton, LCSW

Ashyle Horton, LCSW

Hi, I'm Ashyle. I create a protective space for BIPOC individuals. As a queer Black woman, I knew early on that there were high expectations FOR me and I carried a heavy burden to be ten times more “presentable” to the world just to get by. If you're interested, you can read more about me on my about page.