By Michelle S. Lazurek, Crosswalk.com
Although the holiday season is normally spent eating dinner and sharing gifts with family and friends, you might have experienced the death of a loved one this past year. This makes the holiday season particularly hard for those dreading the holly and jolly, as there will be an empty chair around the table this year. Although there's nothing you can do to bring back the loved one, there are ways in which you can manage your grief so that you can enjoy the holiday as much as possible.
Here are seven ways to navigate the empty chair this holiday season:
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1. Deal with It
During the first few weeks after a loved one has passed, many people want to be there to support and love you through a difficult time. They provide meals and prayers and offer their condolences as well as any other way they can be of help. But it is the months after a loved one has passed when people have moved on, and you're not at the forefront of their minds. If you need something during the holiday, don't hesitate to reach out to those who have offered their help. Don't wait for them to help, but ask for it when you need it. It's unfair to assume that everyone offering help will know when you need it. They may be afraid to ask or feel it is too awkward a situation to bring up themselves. Grieving people also don’t always reach out when they need help. Communicate clearly what you need and when you need it. This will help set clear boundaries and let people know they are invited to ask about your grief during this time.
2. Talk to Someone
There are five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. Grief is a process and is not linear. There is no timeline as to when you will proceed through all five stages of grief. In fact, some stages can take years to process. Schedule a session with a professional counselor to help you process through your grief. A good counselor will ask thought-provoking questions to shed light on the situation from a different perspective. They will also help pinpoint emotional issues or needs that may have arisen as you grieve the loss of your loved one. There is no shame in getting help. Counselors, particularly Christian ones, are trained to deal with the mind, body, and spirit. When one experiences loss, every area of life is impacted. Counselors help you to renew your mind, deal with emotional issues, and aid in your journey toward experiencing freedom after your deepest grief has subsided.
3. Honor Their Legacy
Just because a loved one is no longer with you does not mean they can't be with you in spirit. A big step in your healing is acknowledging the empty chair. Before you eat, take a moment to toast your missing loved one. Have each person tell what they miss about them and raise your glasses to honor the time you had with them. If you can handle it, play old movies that remind you of happier times with your loved one. Talk about their favorite things: what they would have liked to eat and anything else that will help your family members remember him/her during this time. You can also dedicate a shelf (or even a whole room) of your home to your loved one so that their memory will not be forgotten. A fireplace mantle adorned with photos and other mementos will help keep your loved one’s spirit alive during the holidays.
4. Pour Your Heart Out
It's okay to let the tears flow before the holidays arrive. Your emotions are valid, and it's normal to feel especially emotional during a season dedicated to being with loved ones. Write a letter to your loved one, telling them all that has happened over the past year. Tell them you missed them and let them know you will do your best to keep their memory alive. When talking to other family members who will attend the holidays with you, let them know you are struggling and that it is an emotional time for you. Don't sugarcoat or dismiss your feelings during this time. You may have learned to manage your grief from day-to-day, but the holidays can be particularly painful if you are seeing loved ones with which you have not had any contact for the last year. It can be a painful reminder that you will never have another holiday with them again.
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5. Have Others Pray
If you are part of a local church body, express your emotions privately to one or two trusted people. Ask them to pray that you can get through the holiday season and enjoy it as best you can. Ask them to keep you in their prayers and let them know you will contact them if the grief gets particularly hard. People from your church love you and want to help you; they just don't always know how. By letting them know that you are struggling, it will help them know what your needs are and how to best pray for you.
6. Have Others Pray
While it is important to focus on yourself while you're grieving, one way to comfort yourself during this time is to give back to others. This is a great way to alleviate depression and lift your spirits if you're feeling down during the holidays. This is a great way to honor the legacy of your loved one, especially if he/she was someone who gave their time or money and invested in others. Give money to his or her favorite charity, donate to your local food pantry or clothes closet, or donate blood. Their name doesn't have to be publicly honored for you to make a difference in your community in their name. In so doing, you give God glory by being others-centered and keep their memory alive by helping the less fortunate.
7. Invite a Friend
Who says the empty chair has to stay empty this holiday season? A great way to adjust to your new normal is to invite a friend or even someone who does not have a place to go for the holidays, allowing them to spend it with you and your family. Adjusting to life without your loved one will be difficult but getting to know someone new and perhaps making a new friend will help ease the pain. Make a point to socialize with them during your time together and get to know them better. Although they will never take the place of your loved one, your loved one would not want you to spend the holidays alone in grieving. Extending hospitality to someone who needs it or sitting in the comfort of a friend's company will fill the void your loved one has left.
The holidays can be tough whether you have directly or indirectly lost a loved one. Your first holiday without a loved one can be particularly difficult. But getting through the first holiday is the first step in adjusting to a new normal after your loss because it only improves. By setting healthy expectations for yourself, leaning on others for help and support, and giving back to the less fortunate, you honor the legacy of your loved one and let people know just how loved and cherished their presence was in your life.