Should You Skip the Holidays While Grieving?

Updated

Holidays are reflective times of the year when we look back on life and remember those special people in our lives, both living and deceased. Even when we lost loved ones several years ago, the memories we hold of them can still trigger feelings of sadness and despair. We long to have them in our lives and yearn for them when we feel sad. 

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Although holidays are hard after a loved one dies, we often still look forward to making them memorable for ourselves and our loved ones. However, experiencing the first holidays following a significant loss can be especially difficult.

Handling our grief during the holidays becomes a point of stress and anxiety leading up to the celebrations ahead. These times of the year can be challenging, but you'll gain more confidence in dealing with the holidays as you move through your grief with each passing year. 

Why Might You Want to Skip the Holidays While Grieving?

Attempting to celebrate the holidays when you're grieving can prove to be overwhelming, causing you elevated levels of grief and anxiety. Grief doesn't attach to only one specific holiday.

The effects of grief-related emotions creep up at any holiday or special occasion, regardless of the time of year it falls on the calendar. While it's evident that major holidays hold a particular challenge for a bereaved person, other holidays can be just as tricky as birthdays and anniversaries. 

You might want to skip the holidays if you're newly grieving or haven't had time to prepare for them emotionally. Holidays can be extremely challenging during the first year following a significant loss, and you may feel like erasing the holidays from your social calendar or ignoring them altogether.

These feelings are a natural and normal part of the grief process, and the changes in your life following the death of a close loved one create these painful grief experiences, especially during the holidays.

Another reason you might want to spend the holidays alone and refrain from participating in holiday celebrations is if you haven't resolved your grief. To have resolved suffering means that you've arrived at a point in life where the emotional pain of death no longer negatively affects your life.

Changes in routine and social interactions during these special occasions may also affect your psychological responses following gatherings with friends and family. After the excitement associated with the holidays passes and you return to your regular routines, you might feel the solitude and loss all the more salient.

In addition, grief cycles with the holidays, and you're more likely to experience emotional setbacks during this time regardless of the amount of time that's passed after suffering a loss.

What Should You Consider Before Skipping the Holidays?

Many people typically spend the major holidays of the year with family members who may provide emotional support, protecting them against symptoms of distress. This added reinforcement can help you manage your grief as you remember deceased loved ones at Christmas or other significant holidays of the year. Therefore, it’s essential to take these added benefits of being with family or other loved ones before deciding to skip out on the holidays entirely.

Managing your grief during the holidays can be challenging as you consider the choice between joy and sorrow, pain or pleasure. Although not every challenge is impossible when dealing with holiday celebrations. Sometimes, the real challenge is finding victory in the middle of the battle and seeing beauty in the context of despair.

You can still experience the joys of the season in the middle of your grief. Your sadness doesn’t mean that you’ll never again enjoy seasonal celebrations or special holidays. In time, you’ll find a new sense of joy amid your sorrow.

Wanting to skip the holidays is normal after experiencing the death of a loved one. Many people automatically connect their loss to the nearest holiday even though it may be months away. Even if you’re not one to do this, your first holidays after going through a significant loss will remind you of how your life’s changed as a result.

For some people, skipping the holidays means that they aren’t yet ready to experience it without their loved ones or that the reminder of their loss is just too great for them to bear.

How to Talk to Family or Friends About Skipping Holiday Celebrations

Having a conversation with family and friends about skipping the holidays and celebrations may be particularly difficult for a bereaved individual. The added stress of explaining yourself can prove too much to deal with, and coping with the intense and challenging feelings associated with grief may send you over the edge of sorrow. The following are some tips and ideas to ease your way into having these conversations with your loved ones.

Be honest

Honesty goes a long way when explaining why you need to skip out on the holidays. Suppose you've recently experienced the death of a loved one; you may be exhibiting significantly more symptoms of yearning, loss-related anxiety, despair, and depression around the holidays. Some reasons may be because it's challenging to accept the reality of death and face the intense emotional pain of grief that follows.

Adjusting to changes resulting from a loved one's death may take several years. Although you may want to remember and memorialize their death and life during this particular time, you may not yet be emotionally ready to do so.

Set boundaries

When experiencing elevated symptoms of despair and depression, you may not feel like socializing or dealing with the seasonal variation associated with your grief. It’s sometimes emotionally easier to keep to yourself while finding other ways of distracting yourself from the holiday celebrations.

And no matter how much your friends and family prod you to figure out why you’re feeling the way you are, you don’t owe anyone a detailed explanation. Setting boundaries early on will save you from having a repeat at every holiday that comes up. 

Make up an excuse

Following the death of a loved one, each person’s grief is unique. However, shared challenges arise during the healing process. Some people will keenly feel their loss during the first holiday following a loss. At the same time, others may experience the emotions of first holidays during the second or subsequent years of their grief because of their initial shock, numbness, or tendency to deflect their suffering during the first year following the death.

If you aren’t ready to face the holidays because of your grieving, it’s okay to bail out on them. You can be sincere with your friends and family, or you can make up an excuse to get you out of celebrations.

Go on a vacation

There's no better way of explaining your absence during the holidays than going on holiday yourself. You can spare yourself the family drama by packing your bags and going away for a few days or a weekend staycation. There's no further explanation needed other than you can't make it to any planned get-togethers because you won't be home for the holidays.

Give your best regrets and keep the conversation moving along to where you plan on visiting or what you'll be doing during the break. If anything, your friends and family should be happy for you that you're working through your grief and getting back to your everyday life.

How to Make the Most of Holiday Celebrations While Grieving

Holidays and other special celebrations may be tough for you, especially if you’ve suffered the loss of a child or the death of your last surviving parent. Bereaved persons have heightened grief and sadness on dates that remind them of their lost loved ones, and holidays are no different.

You can expect to experience increased sadness on these special days throughout the year because they revive thoughts of your deceased loved one and remind you of the life you once had. The tips below can help you make the most of the holidays ahead as you cope with your grief.

Embrace the moment

Holidays and other special days on the calendar promote gatherings and celebrations with your loved ones. Cherish these moments and use them as opportunities to have positive conversations. You may find it helpful to discuss with others what you’ve been dealing with due to your loss.

You won’t always feel the need to talk about your grief and loss. However, in the beginning stages of the mourning process, you can expect to need the added love and support of your family and social circle. 

Light a candle

Remembering your deceased loved ones during the holidays is vital to the grieving process and overall healing. Lighting a special memorial candle helps honor their memory as you celebrate the holidays. A ceremonial candle lighting is a great way to maintain a connection with and keep your loved ones.

Inviting your friends and family to join you in this celebration brings new meaning to the holidays. Honoring your loved ones helps you cope with pain and sorrow regardless of how much time has passed from when they died. 

Use holidays as milestones

With each passing year, your grief will evolve into something different. Your pain and suffering may not always lessen as time moves on, but you can expect your grief experience to have its ups and downs.

The more holidays and other special occasions you can mark off the calendar each year, the better you can expect to feel as your grief changes your perspectives and outlooks. Before you know it, you’ll have the first full calendar of holidays behind you, and you can close that chapter of your life.

When Skipping the Holidays Helps

Each holiday, we yearn to celebrate the joys of the season with our loved ones. But when someone we love dies, we don't always know how to survive. The holidays turn into something we want to avoid, with some of us experiencing heightened symptoms of anxiety, depression, and grief during this time. Recognize that each person copes with grief differently. There's nothing wrong with wanting to skip the holidays entirely to help you survive your grief.

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