Finding Holiday Joy Amid the Grief


It’s a disappointing truth: Holiday cheer can be difficult to come by if you’re facing emotional pain caused by a loss. But experts urge us to muster our inner strength — to find bits of holiday joy amid the vision come true, and very often it doesn’t. Nothing is ever going to be that rosy.”

Be open to what spontaneously occurs, Lewis says. “Then you won’t feel the pressure to turn every holiday dinner into a picture postcard. Be in the moment and awake to whatever happens in the moment.”

So the cranberry sauce doesn’t taste quite right — so what? Focusing on flaws makes for an unhappy experience, she explains. “If you can just be present and taste the food you spent four hours cooking, you will notice that much of it tastes really good.” If your son has a bad haircut, just let it go. Enjoy your conversation with him and everyone else at the table. “If you allow yourself to experience it, the moment will be fresh and happy and joyful,” says Lewis.

Transform Old Traditions

Because we love our traditions, change doesn’t come easily, notes Rauch. “It’s important to take stock of favorite old traditions like sitting around the fireplace in your big old house. Now you’re in a small condo, alone after losing your spouse — and the family is scattered across the country.”

Examine the most special aspects of that tradition, she advises. “Maybe that’s when the family shared stories. This year, line up a family conference call instead. Think about what makes traditions special — then come up with creative ways to make a new tradition to fit your new situation.”

When a parent is seriously ill, it’s important that the whole family brainstorm on how to spend the holidays, notes Rauch. “You may not be able to travel or have all the relatives over for the big dinner. Talk about the traditions and what matters most to everyone — and the best aspects you can salvage.”

You might watch Christmas movies together. Have the big meal earlier in the day if a sick parent is particularly tired. If the kids love their cousins’ swimming pool — but you can’t travel this year — find a pool in your own town. “Be creative,” Rauch says. “Find ways to celebrate.”

Say ‘No’ If You Need To

Creating new traditions is part of healing — but it can be hard, says Apollon. “When a mother, father, spouse, or child dies, your heart’s not in it. You don’t feel like doing it.

“Do what you can,” Apollon advises. “Maybe you want to go somewhere so you won’t be at home during the holiday. If you want to leave town, take a vacation. You’ve got to do what feels right for you.”

Scale back on decorating the house if you don’t feel like it, she adds. “Find joy in doing things in a smaller way.”

Honor Your Loved One

Light a special candle to celebrate someone you love. Create ornaments with a photograph. “It’s important to find ways to honor your loved one — a way that feels comfortable for you,” Apollon tells WebMD. “Make cookies that grandmother used to make. Or serve dad’s favorite main dish in his honor. Watch their favorite movie together. These are all ways to connect with that person.”

A visit to the cemetery is a tradition for many people. Take that moment to talk heart-to-heart with your loved one. Or use a journal to have a conversation. Get out the photo albums.

With a death in the family, it helps to focus on the richness of a life well-lived, says Rauch. “When you share stories about that person, you’re filling your heart with that person — since they can’t fill your living room anymore. While there is sadness, there are often a lot of happy, funny, rich memories that can be shared. “

For the child who has lost a parent, it helps to talk about school, about things they knew made their parent proud, Rauch adds. “When a parent dies, the child can carry the best of them in their hearts. It’s a means of strengthening that relationship, that memory.”

Apollon counsels many parents who have lost a child. “It’s important to give holidays a different meaning — since meaning determines how you feel about your life,” she tells WebMD. “Do something in honor of your child. If his football team did a charitable event every year, get involved in that. Buy the gifts you would buy for your child, then give them to a needy child. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or hospital for children.”

Discover Small Joys

As the holidays unfold, tune into small joyful moments, Apollon advises. “When you hear the laughter of children, focus on how good that feels. When you eat a piece of pie, really taste it. In the moment, it tastes so good — and in that moment, you’re outside your grief.”Also, look for opportunities to laugh. “When you’re laughing, your produces endorphins to boost the immune system,”>

A cautionary note: “If it feels impossible to imagine the holiday as anything but unbearable, you might be severely depressed,” says Rauch. “You need to see a doctor.”

Symptoms of depression include: sadness, loss of enjoyment, loss of energy, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, symptoms of depression, get advice from your health provider or a referral to a mental health professional.