This time of year is always so hard. Fall brings beautiful colors, cozy sweaters, and nights by the fire. But it is so bittersweet for me. Those beautiful leaves quickly fall to the ground, the weather gets colder, and then the holidays are looming.  When you lose someone, the holidays can be awful.  Especially the first ones. For years I tried to do stick with the traditions that I had with my parents, but of course it was never the same.  So instead I made new traditions and prepared for the holidays ahead of time.

Here are some things that I found helpful throughout my grief journey during the holidays.

Prepare and Let the Emotions in

A lot times people who are grieving avoid making plans for the holidays or even talking about it. I did this all the time in the beginning. I thought that if I changed the subject or waited until the last minute to make plans then I didn’t have to face the fact that the holidays were coming and my loved ones wouldn’t be there. This was the worst thing I did because when the day came, I just lost it. So I started to prepare early. Now is a great time to start. Mentally envision the holidays and when you start feeling sad, let it in because if you don’t the emotions can ambush you any time. Start dialoging with your loved one and tell them what you are going to miss most during the holidays.

Start New Traditions

If it is already hard thinking about your loved one not being there, than make new traditions. It can be as simple as having dinner at a different relative’s house so you don’t have to look at the empty seat at your house. I have a friend who changed up the seating arrangements so there wasn’t a constant reminder during dinner that her husband wasn’t there. If old decorations are hard to put up, then don’t put them up. Treat yourself to new ones. There is nothing wrong with starting new traditions, you will find that it will make things more exciting. When you do something different, it is stimulating and takes you mind off what was familiar.

Self Care

It is so easy to not take care of ourselves during the holidays, whether you lose someone or not. Make good self-care a priority. When those emotional times come, having a good physical well-being can help carry you through. Get plenty of sleep and exercise, you want to keep those endorphines up, those are your body’s natural anti-depressants! Eat healthy foods to give you strength, sugary and fattening foods can make you feel worse. Get outside, even for 5-10 minutes. Sometimes all you need is fresh air and some vitamin D.

Get Out

Even if you don’t want to go, GO! Do not isolate. A friend of mine who lost her husband says she never turns down an invitation, even if it is to a dance or a wedding. She said it was dreadful in the beginning. She would see other couples dancing together and it was so painful. The worst part was driving home alone. She would get in her car and just sob. You may wonder why anyone would do this to themselves. It has been almost 10 years and she still doesn’t turn down invitations. She explained, “Sometimes you do what you have to do. It was awful at first but I believe going helped me face the pain and process it quicker. I never had a “bad time”, yes it was hard but what was I going to do sit in my house alone? If you stop going to things, people will stop asking. Getting dressed and out the door is the hardest part.”

“Though my life is over, I am closer to you now than I was ever before. There are rocky roads ahead of you and many hills to climb, but together we can do it taking one day at a time.” 

-Excerpt from Hello from Heaven, by Chelsea Hanson