One of the hardest things to cope with after the loss of a loved one is holidays. There seems to be one every month, and you have family birthdays and anniversaries sprinkled through your calendar. Chances are good that the death occured near some special day. Human nature being what it is, we then associate the two events afterward. We may try to sneak quietly past that special day the next time it comes around, but our attempts are in vain. Commerce doesn't help. We're barely ready for Kwanzaa when the ads for President's Days car/mattress/furniture sales begin. So there you are, thrown into the depths of grief, sometimes more painful than ever.
The first holidays after a death, you are excused. Give yourself permission to celebrate, or not, as feelings dictate. Cards, decorations, parades, parties - all are optional. Your own family members may pressure you to join in. You may lovingly decline. If they don't understand, that's okay.
However, if after a year you still don't feel up to it, it's time to take a hard look at why.
Too tired? Not interested? Rather be alone? Think you'd be the wet blanket to smother others' joy?
You may be stuck somewhere along the grief process, and this is problematic. It's time to talk to someone who specializes in this. If you are not living well, you can't properly honor the one you lost. Think about it, your well being was a concern to them as they died. They wanted you to be okay. So enlist the help of a good friend to get you out to an appointment. Get back on track. Yes, part of you died when your loved one died. But there is still a lot of you left, and a lot of life to live with those you still have.
So how do you ease back into the holiday spirit? Ease is the key word. Your best resource is to talk to someone who has been there and done that. There is strength in numbers, and support systems are critical. Even if you don't know the person well, ask. Tell them you know they've survived a situation similar to yours, and would like some pointers on how they did it. You'll be surprised and gratified at how much people want to help others get through.
Here are some suggestions. Remember - ease.
Was your loved one the cookie baker? Pick up a variety of fancy cookies from the bakery, and bring them to the party on the special plate your loved one used. If you also like to bake, do so. But just do one recipe of one cookie for starters. Go ahead and try that special cake recipe. Cook that veggie dish they always brought. My Aunt Dorothy always made a certain kind of cake, but wouldn't share the secret recipe. One of her sons did tons of research until he found what he thought might be it. He copied the recipe for all of us, and handed it out the next time the family was together. Just having the recipe made us all very happy.
Grandma never served a holiday meal without black olives. The year after she died, eight cans showed up. We wanted to be sure she wasn't forgotten.
Ask the host of the party if you can bring a candle for the table, in memory. You need only make slight mention of it to others. It's perfectly okay to cry when you do. Afterward, take the candle home, and light it whenever you want to spend time with your loved one's memory. You may also offer a certain table cloth or serving dish. It only takes one small thing to make it feel like the departed is present, remembered, and honored.
Bring pictures to set on a mantle or side table.
Ask the family to join you in some charity event to honor the departed.
Tell the family how much it would mean to you to have them all together at a religious service before the big dinner.
Go as a group to a place favored by your loved one. Leave flowers.
Write a holiday card to your loved one, then drop into a body of water, or into the fireplace. This sounds weird, but it works.
A floral arrangement of their favorite blooms is always welcome.
Was there certain music, or a particular song that your loved one always included? Find a copy and bring it. Or bring copies of the words so all can sing it together.
Offer a toast in memory.
Ask family members to bring food or blanket donations that will then be donated in memory.
One family member had a humorous episode with raisins (you had to be there). Every year after that, there was a small box of the fruit, gift wrapped, at each place setting.
Another family member used to tell the same joke every Christmas. After he died, someone told the joke, every year. No introduction was needed.
Hopefully, this will get you thinking. There is some small, special thing you can do that is very manageable for you. The goal is to get you back into the ebb and flow of life. Take it at your own pace, but keep moving forward.