How Do I Survive the Holidays When I’m Missing My Loved One?

How Do I Survive the Holidays When I’m Missing My Loved One?

Driving home from working out this morning, I happened to listen to a radio program about grief.  How can we get through the holidays when our loved one is gone?  A spouse, a child, any family member, knowing their chair will be empty.  The first thanksgiving dinner without them.  The first Christmas without them.  People will not know what to say.  They’ll say the wrong thing.  How can I hold my mind together?  Will I be able to smile when someone says something that is so wrong, even though they’re trying so hard to be nice?  What if someone would ask me if I’m doing ok, and I really tell them how I feel?  Do they really want to know?  Those were all thoughts I had when we lost our loved ones years ago.  Dad died in a car accident, our daughter Lexie passed away after a 3 1/2 year fight with disabilities and mom of cancer, all within 5 years.

Miss you guys…

Each year after that, it was “The day she went to heaven”, “The first Christmas without her”, “Lexie’s Birthday” and they were all hard, especially that first year.I thought it would  be good to make a list of things that would have been helpful to me during that time .  I didn’t know how to go through grief, I didn’t have any guidelines, I just got up every day and got dressed and made it as best I could.  Just in case you are going to have to face one of those difficult times, or maybe you’re going to be with someone who has gone through a difficult loss I hope some of these things will be helpful.

Guidelines For Those Grieving:

  • Make a list of what would really help you during this time and send it to friends and family ahead of time. Keep trying to go to outings.  The more you practice and talk about how you’re doing, the easier it will become.
  • Think of things you loved about your loved one and tell people you’d like to set aside a time to talk about them.
  •  It’s ok to cry. Don’t apologize, just be free to have those moments and know it’s ok.  Tell people it might happen and that you’re going to be ok, but sometimes tears will come.
  •  Ask me how I’m doing, but if you do, be ready that I might not be doing too well.  Give me freedom to not be ok, and know that I just need time.
  •  Mourn with those who mourn.  Maybe it will be appropriate to just cry with me.  You don’t have to fix me.  Just be with me.  Crying is good.
  • No set time of when you will be better.  One day at a time.
  •  If you don’t know what to say, just hug.  Hugs are so needed.  You don’t have to say anything.
  • It’s ok not to answer your phone and to not call people back.  Many times their messages will be just what you needed to hear that day.
  • Have pictures around of your loved one.
  • Maybe even set a place for that person at the table when it’s a special occasion.
  • Hang their stocking on the fireplace.
  • Don’t feel bad when you can’t do what you used to do.  Just rest.  It’s ok.
  • When someone asks how many children you have, and one of your angels is in heaven, tell them how many on earth, and how many in heaven.

Guidelines For Friends and Family:

  • Just go.  Don’t worry about what to say.  Hug.  and Hug again.  Sometimes all that’s needed is “I’m so sorry”.
  • Let them cry if they want to.
  • Talk about their loved one.  Say good things about them.  You don’t have to say the perfect thing.
  • You don’t need to try and make them feel better.  Pain is something they need to feel and walk through.
  • No set time of when things will be back to normal.  Things will always be different from now on.  Walking through death can make us bitter or better.
  • For me, I loved to talk about God, and worship, and was so thankful when people brought those things along with them.  They didn’t have to say anything.  Just read scripture and listen to worship with me.
  • Some days it was hard for me to be in a group of people who wanted to make jokes. Don’t try to make small talk or jokes when you don’t know what to say.  Silence and hugs are the best medicine.
  • Some days they may not want to talk about themselves at all.  They may be desperate for something else to talk about.  Let them make the decision.
  • You won’t know what to do.  It’s ok.  Just be there, hug, and love them.  Put your arm around them from time to time and let them know you will be there and they are not alone.

Each year does get a little easier, just like they say.  Not that we don’t miss them, but that the physical pain isn’t as great.  Those special days we will always miss them, but it doesn’t hurt as much the rest of the year.  And then some day, you’ll have to walk someone else through the difficult time you went through, and you’ll know what to do.

How Will I Know When I’m Getting Better?

One thing I constantly worried about was “Am I doing ok?”  I guess somewhere in my crazy head I thought I’d be able to get back to life a little better, since I knew Lexie was dying.  Woops, wrong assumption.  But I guess it was good to check in once in a while and ask myself that question.

  • One day I realized I actually cared about whether my plants got watered.  It was a good feeling.  To care again, and I was beginning to recover.
  • I cared about what we were going to have for dinner.  Started cooking.
  • Got a facial.  Cared about my looks.
  • Started exercising.  Cared about my health.

Should you go or shouldn’t you?  Yes.  To everyone.  The best thing for everyone is to be together and not be alone on holidays.  Of course you have permission to say no.  You can always change your mind later.  I’m a better person now.  I have more compassion, more love, more of everything because God gave us Lexie.  Because He walked me through the Valley of the Shadow of death and we came out the other side.  I trust Him.  I’m stronger, wiser and full of more love than I ever thought possible for those going through trouble.  Yes, some days I get sad, but I’m the best I can be today and grateful for her life.

I pray that this holiday is the best one ever and you don’t miss a thing.

Grief is not rocket science. Actually, it’s a whole lot more difficult than rocket science, which is based on math and predictability. The grief journey for each person, like a snowflake, is individual and unique. Some may feel flat and unmotivated, others may experience bursts of energy and manically run around busying themselves with activity. Others may experience rapid cycling between highs and lows.

There is not a formula for grief. There are no “wrong” ways to grieve. From a therapeutic standpoint, the key word is permission. There are a lot of “shoulds, musts, and oughts” that come along with the holidays. Permission to do the holiday season differently or permission to do nothing at all is essential for someone who is grieving.  If the tradition has always been to cook a ham at Christmas dinner, then grant yourself permission to roast a chicken, scramble some eggs, or order out for pizza. Grief can come in waves, bursts, or just be a constant presence. Try not to judge, but rather to give yourself grace to experience whatever feelings you are feeling.

When to seek out professional help:

You may want to consider grief therapy if any of the following situations describe where you are at:

  • Prolonged Grief: If the death occurred years ago, or even many months ago, and you do not feel like you have had any resolution or peace with your grief, and feel “stuck.” While you may never “get over” the loss of a loved one, you hopefully will move forward in the healing process and not remain in the same place.
  • Delayed Grief: If a reaction during the loss did not happen at the time for whatever reason, it may pop up unexpected and uninvited at a later time, particularly during the stress of the holidays.
  • Exaggerated Grief: If excessive depression, anxiety, or other state of mind that makes life unmanageable is being experienced, this may be the time to seek out professional help.
  • Masked as physical or behavioral symptoms: Unresolved grief can show up as physical symptoms in the body if at the time of loss, the grief was absent or its expression inhibited. While grief therapy can help with this, always seek out professional medical advice when experiencing physical symptoms.

For more on dealing with grief, I have included an excerpt from my journal after Lexie went to heaven. click here


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