Q: My father passed away this year and I am dreading the holidays. How can I get through this without being so sad?
A: The year after a loved one’s passing is filled with firsts. The first birthday, the first Thanksgiving, the first of every event without your father present will be filled with feelings. You may be managing fine one day and then the next day or the next hour a memory arises, and you are filled with sadness and feel the loss of your father all over again.
Grief is not a linear process. Do not be surprised at how your feelings will fluctuate. There is a popular quote by Vicki Harrison that says “Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”
This image can be helpful to picture when the emotions come on strongly. Imagine the wave washing over you. Allow yourself to feel the feelings while also reminding yourself of the rhythm of the waves. You do not want to get stuck and stay in the wave all the time, but if you try and fight against it, the wave of grief will overpower you. You need to allow space for your feelings.
Your holiday traditions probably included your father, and now to experience them without him will be a change and may trigger your feelings of grief. Put yourself first this year. If you need to decline invitations to protect your mental health, then allow yourself to do that. While you do not want to fully isolate, you also need to be careful and select events that will support you.
Let other people close to you know how you are feeling. Anyone who has experienced a loss will understand how difficult those “firsts” without the loved one can feel. Let other people support you and share with them what you need.
Consider finding ways to include the memory of your father in your holiday in a way that will feel good to you. Light a candle in his honor, play his favorite song, make his favorite dish, or even ask everyone to share a fond memory of him.
Always remind yourself that there is no right way to grieve. If the thought of talking about your father at a holiday event feels overwhelming and like it would make you too sad to enjoy the event, then don’t. You get to honor your own feelings and be kind to yourself.
The anticipation of the holiday is sometimes more difficult than the actual day. Try to go into each day with an open mind. Consider changing the tradition if you feel this year needs to be different. There are no rules on what a holiday needs to look like.
There are many events this time of year to remember loved ones who have passed. One such event is organized by Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice. It is an annual free event called Light up a Life. This year it will be held on Saturday, December 3rd at Constitution Park, Camarillo, from 4:30 to 5:30 pm. Anyone is welcome to attend. The event features acts of remembrance as well as a Tree of Life.
Plan ahead to find a way to enjoy the parts of the holiday season that are important to you. Most of all, allow yourself time and space to feel your feelings. Greif is something you will have to go through, and it is in fact only so painful in response to love and relationship you have lost.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at email@example.com.