The holiday season is a time of celebration and joy for most families. But when tragedy and loss have occurred, the holidays can be a painful spotlight of the loss and emptiness that the family may be experiencing. The prospect of facing the holidays without the loved one can be an intense source of stress and anxiety.

While no single set of words can normalize the feelings or fill the void caused by the loss, there are several strategies that can be used to minimize the pain and its effects. Here are some ideas to help lessen the burden during the holidays.

Six ways to help you handle the difficult holiday season:

1. Communicate your wishes clearly.

Don’t be afraid to let people know what you are willing and able to accept. Don’t assume that people know what you are going through or will know what you believe you can endure.

2. Make a new tradition.

Many of the painful memories and feelings of loneliness are tied to events and traditions from the past. Relieve some of the sadness from the loss of those traditions by creating new ones. 

3. Find a confidant.

The holidays are sure to stir deep emotions. Even though you may have been successful keeping the feelings inside thus far, find someone with whom you can confide. You may also find strength in support groups. Many form specifically during the holidays to deal with the difficult times. Check with hospitals or religious organizations to find groups that meet near you.

4. Have an exit strategy.

Parties and family gatherings may seem to be a safe setting, only to find that something triggers some strong feelings of abandonment or grief. Plan for  a way that you can graciously leave without drawing attention to yourself or causing others to disrupt their celebration.

5. Carry out a ritual that your loved one performed.

If he or she enjoyed sending holiday greeting cards, send the cards out remembering the joy that it brought your loved one. If volunteering for service organizations was done each year, make sure that you continue the legacy. These activities will give you meaning and purpose and will keep the memories of the joy and dedication of your loved one alive.

6. Dedicate a gift in memorial.

You can give a gift to your family or friends in the name of your loved one, or you can give a gift to a charity or organization in their honor. Either is a concrete way that you can keep memories alive and meaningful.

Six ways that you can help your friend handle the difficult holiday season:

1. Be supportive of how the person chooses to approach the holidays.

Everyone handles holiday grief differently – there is no correct way to deal with the myriad of emotions and settings. While some may disapprove of choices, you voice your support for your friend. No one should dictate the activities that require your friend’s participation.

2. Offer to help decorate for the season.

The simple decorations that are used during the holidays could potentially provoke emotions and memories. Don’t let the person handle those items alone. Your presence will also be very practical. Decorating the house is usually a two-person job.

3. Invite the loved one to attend a religious service with you and your family.

Your presence will remind them of how much you care, as well as emphasize your love for the departed. Many people, even non-religious individuals, find strength and comfort from spiritual services during times of loss.

4. Invite the person to your home for the holiday.

Your hospitality can keep the person from being alone during those important days and hours.

5. Help the person prepare and mail holiday cards.

Your presence during this emotional task will take away the loneliness that could set in if your friend were to be alone. 

6. Invite the person to volunteer with you during the holiday season.

Doing something for someone else – helping serve food to needy, working with children, collecting clothes and toys – helps put life in perspective. Selfless giving often promotes healing.

Never tell the person that he or she should be “over it.” Instead, provide the person with love, encouragement and strength. Then, your friend can find hope that the holidays will eventually feel like a season of celebration once again. 

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