It's precisely at these happy times that the loss of our loved one can be felt the strongest. We remember only too well who is missing.
Whether our loss was recent or whether it occurred many years ago, we are constantly surrounded by sights and sounds that trigger memories of holidays past, and wracked with dreams of what might have been. Holidays involve expectations about getting together with family, about special meals or special gifts, and special traditions. Even when we find a way to cope with everyday life, the holiday season brings a renewed sense of these dreadful feelings of grief.
No matter how much we surround ourselves with the closeness of family and friends, it's impossible to forget the memories of past holidays when our loved ones were here. And impossible not to wonder what the present holidays would be like if our loved ones had not been taken from us. What can we do?
Sit down quietly and think about what you can handle comfortably. Pin down those traditions which are really important to you, which ones you can scale down and which ones you could skip entirely.
Change or Modify
Change can make things less painful. Do you routinely cook the traditional meal ? Will this be something to distract you, to keep your mind off your sorrow ? It may be too much work, or too much pain ... if it's too much - it's perfectly okay to say so and let someone else take on the traditional task.
If you normally travel at Christmas consider staying home. Or if home has too many sad memories, think about getting away somewhere for a day or two.
Avoid excessive self-medication
Don't use alcohol or over-eating to cope. Too much food or alcohol only makes you feel worse. This is no time to shortchange yourself by self-medication on alcohol.
Let people know
Tell your friends and family just what you can, and can't, do. You'll find that others are only too happy to take over some of your tasks, or to assist you in those you choose to keep. Talk about the person who has died. Others often avoid mentioning your loved one's name in an attempt to avoid hurting you, so be honest with them and teach them that its a lot more painful not to talk about your memories.
Commemorate your loved one with a special Ceremony. Make them part of your traditional holiday celebration by including them in your family dinner - lay an extra place setting, light a special candle, make a small speech and raise your glass in a toast. Children could write the loved one a letter to place under the christmas tree or the main decoration you normally have for the holidays. Get a new ornament in memory. Plant a tree. Start a new tradition.
Do something for others
You may find comfort in doing something for others. Take the money you would have spent on a gift for your loved one and donate it to a charity in his or her name.
Susanna Duffy is a Civil Celebrant, grief counsellor and mythologist. She creates ceremonies and Rites of Passage for individual and civic functions, and specialises in celebrations for women.