Coping with Grief during the Holidays

no heart for holidaysCoping with grief during the holidays takes a lot of energy.

Diwali, the festival of lights, is to India what Christmas is to the West. The first Diwali after my mother passed away in January of 2009 was the hardest. It was her favorite festival. In the countdown to it, she’d get really busy drawing up lists of sweets to order, firecrackers and clothes to buy for the family and her domestic support staff.

Diwali of 2009 passed like a ship in the dark. I was actually very thankful to be in Chicago and not Chennai, my parents’ home. Being here gave me permission to wake up and pretend it was just another day. People went to work, stores were open, and no firecrackers lit the night sky. Kind of, like, if you were in India on Christmas Eve. Grateful for the anonymity of the day, I survived it without too much damage, occasionally choking through memories of years past when I’d arrived at my parents’ home and touched their feet to take their blessings.

I’m guessing Thanksgiving holds similar dread for you if you’re grieving a loved one’s passing. What can you do to feel better? How can you ease the pain?

The key is to be gentle with yourself. Trust your heart. If you’re feeling the pressure of a family invite looming, but just don’t feel up to going, honor the feeling. If on the other hand you find solace in the traditions of the celebration, go ahead and dive right in. Only you can decide what’s right for you.

Here are some suggestions to help you get through the day:

  • instead of hiding from the pain and ignoring your loved one’s shadow presence, inform every member who’s going to be at the table to come prepared with a favorite memory of the loved one who’s missing this year.
  • include one tradition that was your loved one’s special thing to do. It’s a great way to honor their memory.
  • share family photos and stories of the loved one.
  • light a candle for your loved one and take turns to give thanks to him/her for for the joys they brought.
  • remember your loved one in prayer. Everyone at the table could speak a blessing or prayer for them.
  • start a new tradition to mark the truth that Thanksgiving will never be the same without your loved one. But it would be your way of changing the celebration, a message that life must and will go on, just in a different way.
  • watch your loved one’s favorite movie together with friends and/or family.
  • if you don’t have the energy  to get everything together and organize a meal, use the money to donate a Thanksgiving basket or two to a family in need. Check with your local food pantry for details. This would be a wonderful and generous gesture to honor the memory of your loved one as you turn your grief and loss into a celebration for another family.

Coping with grief during the holidays takes presence, honoring the self, and deep acceptance.

Remember that your loved one sees and hears all that you do, say, think and feel. Know in the deepest part of your being that their spirit is watching over you at all times. My prayer and wish for you is to find peace by being joy in another’s life. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

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  1. tersiaburger on November 13, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Dear Uma, what a lovely, inspirational post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. umagirish on November 13, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, Tersia. Your support means a lot to me.

  3. vidu on November 19, 2012 at 10:55 am

    A beautiful post, Ums and a really nice way of looking at the brighter side of missing a loved one!

  4. umagirish on November 19, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Thanks, Vidu. Glad you enjoyed the post. The grieving suffer the most during the holidays and I just wanted to reach out with a comforting message.

  5. Sheema on December 6, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    My mom passed away on ashtami day and Durga Puja has never been the same. More so, because she was the one who instilled the excitement, fun and nostalgia entwined with the festival. My dad was a non-believer, cynic. So with ma’s going a bit of that sentimental celebration died out in me. But I try to rekindle it in the kids in little ways.

  6. umagirish on December 8, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    I know the feeling, Sheema. If the festival is important enough to you, a good way to alter the associations is to create new traditions around it.

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