When November rolls around, it seems every store you walk into has gone all out to celebrate the holidays. There’s no escape from the decorations, the holiday sales, the festive music. For most people this is a happy time, but if you’ve recently lost a loved one, the holidays can be especially painful – and coping with grief takes a little more work than other times of the year.

But when you feel like you just can’t take another sleigh bell or holiday carol, just remember, you grieve because you had the courage to open your heart up to love. That same love is what will get you through the tough times, when that same heart feels like it’s breaking.

Sometimes feelings get to be too much around the holidays. People all around us are celebrating, reuniting with loved ones coming home for a visit, exchanging gifts, and expecting everyone to be as happy as they are. When you’ve lost someone, it’s hard to get in the middle of all that good cheer. All the celebrations and laughter sometimes make the sadness and loss seem bigger. It’s natural to miss your loved ones more over the holidays, and it’s important to have good coping mechanisms to deal with your grief and feelings of loss.

Get through the holidays your own way!

Holidays are times of tradition, when people come together. It can be hard to celebrate those traditions when someone is missing. Sometimes it helps to find a new way. A friend of mine lost her dad in January one year. When the holidays came around 10 months later, she and her siblings were so sad about their dad not being there for the holidays. They felt like they just couldn’t cope with the idea of holiday shopping, decorating, cards and preparing a big feast. My friend got everyone together and proposed a new approach. “How about if we cancel Christmas this year?”

Instead of shopping for gifts or planning a big meal, they pooled their resources and got reservations at a nice restaurant and went there after their dad’s favorite Christmas Eve church service. They talked about memories of their father and enjoyed just being together. On Christmas Day, they slept in and went to the movies. They had so much fun, and everyone was so relaxed and happy, that they decided to do it again the next year.

I have another friend who travels during the holidays. “I miss my husband,” she tells me, “so instead of going to parties and pretending to be happy while wishing he was there with me, I get on a plane and fly somewhere we always wanted to see.” She takes his favorite sweater with her. “He comes with me,” she says. She’s found a way to connect with her husband and cope with the difficult holiday feelings.

Focus on others.

Of course, not everyone can just leave town or skip the holidays altogether. There are other ways to cope during difficult times like these. Helping others by volunteering somewhere is always a good way to get a break from your own feelings. Being around children is another wonderful way to remember how to feel joy. Parents are always overwhelmed at the holidays. Give Mom and Dad a break and borrow their children for a day. Go skating, check oiut the holiday lights, or build a snowman. Experience the holidays through their eyes. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to “catch” their joy.

Whatever you do over the holidays, remember your loved ones are always with you, and the grief you feel is just a reflection of the love you share. Let that love lift you up, share it with others, and find a way to stay connected to your loved ones this holiday season.

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