When You've Recently Lost a Loved One - How to Cope as the Holidays Approach

Losing a loved one is hard. Losing a loved one with the stress of approaching holidays and final exams can seem like the end of the world. Here are some tips to ease your mind as “that time of the year” begins.

As someone who lost both grandmothers this past spring, the holiday season is something I’ve been dreading as soon as Halloween passed. The two women who I saw as my second mothers, the glue that held our families together, the ones who lead prayers before it was time to eat every year, were suddenly gone. After already going through Easter, I’ve been able to make myself a list of tips based off of what impacted me the most about that first holiday without them. 

1. Don’t try to forget they’re not there

This is the most important part of coping during the holidays. Repressing your feelings is only going to end in more conflict and sadness within yourself. This is much easier said than done, but rather than dwelling on the fact that they’re not physically with you, think of the positive times you once had with them. Think of how they made the holidays a special time for you. They may be gone, but your memory of their impact on the holiday season is not.

2. Schedule your holiday events ahead of time

For a lot of people like myself, the anticipation of approaching events can be the most stressful part of grief over the holidays. Especially for college students when the stress of finals can already feel like too much to handle.

Keeping a schedule of your anticipated holiday events not only keeps you organized among the stress of finals but gives you time to mentally prepare for what's to come. It's extremely important that you give yourself time to soak in each upcoming situation and take the time to think about how you may feel during that time. It's much better to be prepared than to be caught off-guard with a whirlwind of emotions. 

Most importantly, our loved ones want us to exceed. This is something I often tell myself when I’m overwhelmed with final exams and projects. Sticking to a schedule has the potential to ease your stress. However, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed at this time, but you know your loved ones want the best for you. All of your hard work will pay off, and no matter where they are, they're proud of you. 

3. Keep your usual holiday traditions alive

Just this past week, my mom shared with me that she considered not making my grandmother’s favorite pie for this year’s Thanksgiving, given she was the only one who favored the flavor. We ended up deciding to go for it, and enjoy it ourselves as if she was there with us. Just because a loved one may not be there for a usual family tradition does not mean it needs to be completely discontinued. Even if that means making a few alterations to your traditions, keeping them going for generations to come is just one way you're able to honor your loved one. 

4. Don’t isolate yourself

Try to attend as many holiday functions as your emotional and mental capacity can handle, but don’t be afraid to sit some out if you feel like you’re at your limit.

It’s a heart-wrenching feeling to be in a setting you’ve grown up with without someone who was a prominent part of the holidays. Try your best to not miss out on time with the loved ones still around you. Chances are your family members are feeling the exact same way you do. Try and be as involved and supportive to other family members as they are to you. 

5. Give your mind a break by doing good for yourself and for others 

We’ve all been there when no amount of planning ahead or words of advice help to ease our pain. 

Volunteering is an excellent way to do something selfless for others, honor your lost loved one, and also make yourself feel good in the process. Something as easy as preparing meals at a local homeless shelter is enough to make a huge impact on not only others but yourself as well. Helping others who are less fortunate feel joy over the holidays is such a humbling feeling, and puts things into perspective during the time of year with the highest level of stress.