Getting through the holidays

Lights, garland and other holiday decorations adorn the grand staircase at the historic Brucemore mansion in southeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette Archives)
Lights, garland and other holiday decorations adorn the grand staircase at the historic Brucemore mansion in southeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette Archives)

The holidays are close upon us, and many of you are thinking, “I wonder if I will get through them.” The things that once brought so much joy seem downright hard, especially when we have lost a loved one or someone who is near and dear to our hearts.

Maybe, you are wishing you could skip the holidays.

Holidays bring memories, and attached to those memories are family traditions, songs, sights, sounds, smells and expectations. But more than anything the holidays trigger emotions. You go to sign the Christmas cards when it hits you — how do I sign it? And before you know it, your emotions flood in and you are blindsided by the pain and loneliness of missing your loved ones. Losing a loved one is never easy, and it is difficult celebrating the first holidays without them. It’s hard living up to others’ expectation to be happy when your heart aches and all you want is for your loved one to be here.

This year, the holidays will be different for me. Earlier in the year I lost a dear and sweet uncle. This summer my youngest sister passed suddenly, and unexpectedly. And just recently, I lost my sister-in-law. Each one of these losses represents a piece of me that is missing this Thanksgiving and Christmas. When I set a table for Christmas dinner, I will be reminded that there is an empty place at the table my sister will no longer fill.

Where do you find the strength to make it through?

As much as we would like the pain and emotions to go away, that doesn’t help. Some holiday events will be harder to deal with than others, but you can lessen the effect of emotional ambushes by knowing what to expect and preparing.

Here are a few practical tips for getting through the holidays:

• First, acknowledge the holidays are going to be hard without your loved ones — emotionally, relationally, physically and spiritually.

• Don’t fight your emotions: accept and embrace them, give yourself permission to let them come.

• Set practical limitations for yourself, recognizing that emotions during the holidays are normal.

• Know your own expectations; don’t allow others to push you too soon.

• Keep yourself from being blindsided. Plan beforehand how you will ride out your emotions.


• Prepare for emotional ambushes trigged by family traditions, songs, foods, and activities that remind you of times with your loved one.

While no one can change the physical reality of a loved one dying, how we get through the experience makes all the difference. So expect emotional ambushes. It won’t prevent them from happening, but it can lessen the bombshell factor.

• Berlinda Owens is founder & CEO of Illuminate Life & Grief Coaching, LLC



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