by Jess Steinbrink
MSW Intern at LOSS Community Services

The holidays are supposed to be a special time of year. A time for us to celebrate connections and traditions with our family and friends, reflect on the past year, and get excited for the year ahead. But when we’ve lost a loved one—especially to suicide—our grief can make it pretty hard for us to want to celebrate.

Our special traditions feel incomplete, or maybe completely unbearable, without the person we lost. While over time our grief can lessen, it is a possibility that the loss of someone important might forever change the way we celebrate the holidays, and that’s ok.

Getting through the holidays when dealing with loss will look different for everyone, and here are a few suggestions that might help.

1) Tweak tradition
You might consider altering or skipping a holiday tradition this year. For example, if your mom always insisted on the house being heavily decorated for Christmas, maybe this year you only put up the Christmas tree, or maybe you don’t decorate at all. Don’t hold on to traditions that will cause unnecessary pain.

2) Find a Balance
Strike a balance between helpful distractions and unnecessary stress. The idea of being social at all can be overwhelming when you’re grieving, but staying isolated for the entirety of the holidays can also be dangerous when we’re grieving. Choose social events with supportive and understanding friends and family, who you don’t have to pretend around. Instead of big parties, opt for more intimate gatherings of friends.

3) Honor your loss
Your loved one’s absence will be noticeable, so why try and pretend otherwise? Some families find it helpful to light a candle, or set a place at the table for the deceased as a way to keep them present during the celebrations. Depending on the recentness of the loss, it might be helpful to spend time at your holiday gathering sharing favorite memories of the loved one.

4) Honor yourself
Grieving looks different for everyone. Maybe you can handle celebrating the holidays as usual, or maybe you need to make some changes. The holidays are about inspiring hope, so if you’re feeling more dread than desire for celebrating, then consider reevaluating your holiday plans.

The further you are in your grief journey, the easier “celebrating” will become. You will start to adjust to your new “normal” and I hope that sooner rather than later the holidays will become a time of hope and joy once again.