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  • Writer's pictureErin Mckennah Ritter

How Do I Survive the Holidays After Someone I Love Dies?

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

My mom died

Nine years later, it's still hard to write those words. My. Mom. Died. It's important for me to say she died; she's not gone; I didn't lose her. She died. After almost six years of treatments and doing everything we could to heal her body, she still died. She was only 60.

Our relationship was not perfect; we even had a few years where we didn't speak to each other at all. Our relationship was tumultuous and painful but also full of grace and forgiveness. And while there are many things that I would change if I could, in the end, she was my mom, and I loved her. Love her. Still love her.

They say grief is love with no place to go. I feel that. I felt that - A LOT, especially during the first year. Sitting in the hospital waiting room, two weeks after my mom died, waiting for my daughter to get out of surgery and not being able to call my mom - grief. I sobbed in the bathroom after my daughter lost her first tooth because I could not call my mom to tell her - grief. Shopping for fabric and not being able to call my mom to confirm measurements - grief.

Everything reminded me of her. The holidays were the hardest. Putting up decorations for the holidays and feeling angry because my mom loved the holidays. I had to figure something else out. What do you do and where do you go when the person you spent every single holiday with died? You may feel that way now, especially if this is your first holiday since your loved one died. It's hard, but you are not alone.

Here are some things I have found that worked to get through the first holiday season after my mom died.

  • Lower your expectations – Decorate if you want to, don't decorate if you don't want to – Christmas was my mom's favorite holiday; I hated it after she died. I pushed through the first few years and decorated for my kids. I didn't enjoy it. In hindsight, I wish I had done less. So, give yourself permission to decorate or not. Whatever works best for you!

  • Let people help you - When friends and other loved ones offer to help, let them. Order food if that helps – I was never expected to cook a holiday meal ever, until after she died. Someone has to make the food. Guess what? You can order it. Or let someone else cook.

  • Take it one day at a time – Cliché? Maybe. But it works. If you feel like doing an activity, great, go for it! But if you need to do nothing, that is okay too. Pace yourself.

  • Take care of yourself – Pay attention to your body. Rest when you need to. If you keep forgetting to do something related to your health needs, set a reminder. People often forget to nourish their bodies and adequately rest when grieving. While this is normal, extended neglect of your health needs can result in complications, so make sure you nourish your body and rest.

  • Do something that reminds you of them – The first year after my mom died, I bought several Christmas ornaments that reminded me of her. You can place flowers on a plate that you set for your loved one during the holiday meal. Anytime someone passes food over the plate, family members take turns telling a memory of the person who has died.

  • Do something completely different – The holiday may already feel different, so why not do something you have never done before? Go see a holiday play and stay in a nice hotel, visit an attraction that you have always wanted to see during the holidays, or even do something not related to the holiday.

  • Skip it altogether – If you decide that it is all too much this year, there is always next year. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

Is there anything you would add to this list? We would love to know what has helped you.

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