12 holiday tips for coping with loss

This is my favorite time of year. Beginning with the melding of autumn leaves into gold, orange, russet; layered sweaters and scarves against colder temperatures; winter white on the mountains; geese taking off over the river; anticipation of first snow in town.

And in between all this winter beauty — family holidays and welcoming in a New Year.



Photo courtesy myfreetextures.com


But face it. The holidays – whether they’re firsts without your loved one, or the tenth – just aren’t the same. Because there’s a large hole in the shape of someone you very much loved who is no longer here.

And so a few suggestions for helping cope through all that holiday loss and good cheer:

1. Keep holiday traditions. We had several traditions when our children were younger. One of them was to buy a puzzle, wrap it and label it to us, from us. Invariably, one of the kids would shake the box and say, “Hmmm. I wonder what this is.” As they got older, we quit wrapping puzzles, but puzzling was still part of our holidays. Keep traditions when you can, if not for your sake, then for the sake of your children or grandchildren.

2. Continue gift-giving. Don’t put off gift-giving simply because sorrow has drained you of all energy. But definitely keep it simple. Try your hand at easy home-made gifts. Because creating something – whether it’s layering a soup mix in a Mason jar and tying the recipe to the jar with a bow, or knitting one of those cool slouchy hats – can be seriously therapeutic. And because giving to people gladdens the heart. (Here’s a link to 25 amazing DIY gifts people will actually like.)


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 25 DIY gift ideas – www.itsalwaysautumn.com


3. Light up the season. Light candles. Put up tiny white lights everywhere. Light the fireplace. Put up more lights. Yesterday at dusk I happened into the Old Mill District, a shops-restaurant-amphitheater tourist spot along the river. Every tree trunk was wrapped with white lights which spread upward into the lower branches. I held my breath at its simple beauty. Lights have the potential of bringing cheer during the long, dark, cold nights.

4. Prepare traditional holiday foods. Eat. If you’re like me, you cooked for your husband. And now that there’s no reason to cook, you should cook anyway. During the holidays, prepare your seasonal favorites. Invite people over. Break bread together.


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Photo courtesy atelierchristine.com


5. Get outdoors. Getting outdoors is a stress-buster. And when you throw in some physical activity — walking, skiing, snow-shoeing — well, then, a double dose of busting the stress that naturally crowds in around the holidays. Obviously winter weather will dictate how far outdoors you can get. But even if you live in snow country, carve out an outdoor space somewhere on your porch or deck or patio. Layer up. Scarves. Hat. Mittens. Snuggle up with a blanket, hugging a steaming mug of tea. And combine this with #11 below.

6. Surround yourself with friends and family. Exactly a year ago, I was trying to get through the business of becoming a widow before leaving mid-December to spend Christmas with family. Friends called. Can we get together? Lunch? Chai tea? And although I had much to accomplish in the short weeks before flying east for my first Christmas without Hubby, I’m so glad I took the time to keep each engagement. People should trump to-do lists.

7. Reach out. Instead of waiting for family to check in with you, schedule time to call each of them. I do this intentionally. Yes, many of them call and text. Regularly. But people have lives and jobs and kids. They don’t forget you; they just might think to call at an inopportune time—like while at work—and then not remember later. I’ve done this, and so have you. So give some grace and do the reaching out, especially over the holidays.

8. Keep a journal. Capture your joys and frustrations in writing. It’s therapeutic. Writing about personal experiences can improve mental, physical and emotional health. In a New York Times article entitled “Writing Your Way to Happiness,” Dr. Timothy D. Wilson, lead author of a study on the outcomes of writing one’s story, says this: “Writing forces people to reconstrue whatever is troubling them and find new meaning in it.” Go ahead. Reinterpret the negative and look for purpose in it.

9. Listen to music. Music is powerful. Choose soaring music. Il Divo. The Nutcracker. Josh Groban. Use headphones. Play it loud. Identify the various instruments. Guitar. Cello. Oboe. French horn. With applications such as Pandora, you can choose your genre of music or your favorite artist (and it doesn’t have to be holiday music).

10. Schedule movie nights. Because stories can instill hope when all seems hopeless – especially those about people who rise above adversity. They cause us to think that we, too, can overcome our present challenges and heartbreak. These don’t have to be holiday movies, but schedule a time; invite friends over; make an extra-large bowl of popcorn. And get lost in a good story for a couple hours.

11. Play the Top Ten Game. Often. While you’re driving, or sitting at your dining table with a cup of coffee. Or doing laundry. Think of ten things for which you are grateful in that very moment. That the car starts up every time. Coffee beans, taste buds and dining table. Washing machine; clothes to throw into washing machine. You just may be surprised at how many daily blessings there are in your life.

12. Start a gratitude list. I’ve got a small hardbound journal with lined pages, a gift from a niece. And I’m well on my way to numbering one thousand gifts. One thousand things I’m grateful for. One thousand ways God loves me. Give yourself a holiday gift: purchase a small journal and start numbering to one thousand. Because when you fill your life with gratitude, there’s less room for ingratitude. (Highly recommended: Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts.)

#72. All six grandkids in one Facetime call – zaniness!

#108. Glacier Express train ride through snow-dusted Alps.

#147. Chinese food with friends who would do anything for me – this time, an oil change.

#184. First tangerines of the season – sweet tartness on tongue.

#189. Crazy cancer camaraderie along Deschutes River trail.

#217. My knitting posse — Barnes & Noble fireplace burning.


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This from Kathleen Kennedy Townsend—eldest daughter of Robert Kennedy:

I saw that my mother made an effort to be cheerful, to fill our house with activity and a sense that life must go on. … Just as we honored those who had died, it was also wise to remember that we must live for those who were still with us.

Even though it was during my favorite time of year that Hubby slipped away from me, I made a determination that his death would not mar this cold beauty, these special family holidays, this gift-giving, this lighting-against-the-dark time of year.

And with all my heart, I wish a joyous and peace-filled season for those of you who have lost someone near and dear.

What about you? What other tips have helped you through past holidays? How will you determine to make this present season memorable for you and your loved ones who are still living?

P.S. If you found this post helpful or inspirational, please share, tweet or pin!


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  1. Toni

    The first holiday without my loved ones was/is painful. I remember breaking down taking our annual Christmas photos in the living room with my Dad’s recliner empty. Family quickly recovered and moved photo session into the kitchen.

    I now have a tradition of making photo ornaments with my lost loved one’s photo. Each year when I hang my Christmas ornaments on the tree, I take time to remember a great memory and then hang the bulb with their photo inside on my tree. Usually the tears come, but I love my memory tree.

  2. Marlys

    I love the photo ornament idea, Toni! Thanks for sharing, and blessings to you and yours during this holiday season.

  3. Wonderful tips. Thank you for sharing.

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