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By Chandrama Anderson

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About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and have lived in and around Palo Alto since 1969. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in Silicon Valley for 15 years before becoming a therapist. My background i...  (More)

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First Holidays after the Death of a Loved One

Uploaded: Nov 24, 2015
I'm not going to tell you that the first holidays after the death of a loved one are going to be easy, or offer platitudes. The first holidays after the death of a loved one can be very difficult.

You miss him or her, and you don't know how to get through the holidays; you're not even sure you want to – or if it's OK – to celebrate the holidays. Maybe it feels like a betrayal in some way since s/he's not here.

I've counseled many, many people through the holidays, and if you've been reading Couple’s Net this year, you'll know my mother-in-law, the mom of my heart, died of cancer in January. So our family is going through this, too.

There is no right way to handle how to get through the holidays. There are many options and you get to choose for yourself. Think about what would be the best for you, this year.

Two things I would recommend:

1. Make a plan for how you will spend the day. It doesn’t need to be a firm plan, and doesn’t even need to be for the entire day. Will you visit the cemetery, or her favorite place that day? Will you go with your partner? Will you be with your partner the whole day, or each have a little alone time? Will you do this before or after the larger family get-together?

2. Talk about your loved one and share stories. The last thing we want to do is erase the existence of a person we love.

Maybe you're thinking that talking about your loved one might be awkward: How do we start? Do we talk about him the whole time? One person may begin by saying, “I want to tell story about . . .” And no, you don’t have to talk about her the whole time – just interwoven as you talk about your lives.

Some people like to leave an empty chair for their loved one and place a photo at that seat. Others would not choose to.

If you feel overcome with feelings at any point, feel free to excuse yourself. Either take a break alone, or ask a compassionate person to come with you (you may ask this person ahead of time if s/he will be your support).

It's likely that others are missing him, too, and are not sure how to bring him up. So please don't think you're the only one. You may in fact be opening up a conversation that is a relief to others.

It’s also possible that certain people do not want to talk about the loved one. They are not required to participate – and you may still do so.

Over my years of counseling, I’ve noticed that the days leading up to the holiday are usually worse than the actual day itself. We have time to think, and perhaps over-think how that day will be without her.

There's also pressure for the Norman Rockwell holiday scene, and life is just more complicated than that for many families. Families have their own issues, concerns, and dysfunctions. Holidays can bring these out into stark relief like nothing else.
Add in holiday grief and it can be quite the mix, even to the point of overwhelming.

Remember your loved one. Feel love in your mind, in your heart and in your body. Remember telling him or her, “I love you,” and hearing “I love you” back.

The last thing mom said to me was, “How are you doing, Sweetheart?” I’m doing fine, Mom, and I miss you and love you.

The best things I can suggest for you are:
- Take care of yourself (i.e., eat and sleep well, exercise)
- Make a plan for the day
- Have someone to lean on if or when your grief wells up
- Don't drink too much, it's a depressant
- Share a favorite memory of your loved one
- Be kind to yourself, no matter how you feel

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