Holidays are a time to surround yourself with family. But if you’ve recently experienced loss, that empty seat at your table can be a fresh wound weighing down on your heart, mind and spirit. And with this heart-heaviness, what would normally be a cheerful celebration could quickly and easily turn into a morbid event. 

Sadly, I am going through this experience myself this holiday season. I tragically lost my father on September 21 of this year to a motorcycle accident. While he did live a few states away (I live in New Jersey and he resided in Ohio), I frequently talked to him over the phone and maintained a happy and healthy relationship with him. Now, with Christmas just right around the corner, it feels like there is a gaping hole in my life. 

As the holiday inches closer, it is becoming harder for me to handle my feelings of grief and loss as it is becoming a reality that this will be first Christmas without my dad. Simply wrapping a gift can bring on a wave of depression and a good 10 minutes of crying. So, how do I handle these emotions during such a crucial time of year?

I’m not going to lie. It isn’t easy. Every day feels like climbing the world’s tallest mountain. But there are ways to combat it. For me, I find it helpful to sit down and talk about my father and the memories I have of him with my boyfriend. Talking about my dad as if he is still here keeps his memory alive for me. This helps me to focus more on the life he did live and less on the tragic way he was taken from me. 

Another way that I find helpful in dealing with my feelings of loss and grief is to just allow the emotions to take their course. Bottling up or masking your feelings is not healthy in any situation. Especially when it comes to losing a loved one. By allowing my body to go through the necessary stages I am more easily able to come to terms with the loss of my father. 

Handling your feelings of grief will be harder around the holiday season, whether the loss is recent or not. Know that this is normal. It is important to remember loved ones as how they were throughout their lives, not how their lives may have ended. Reminisce about past holidays with them. Continue some of their favorite holiday traditions. Leave a seat open for them at the table. These are things I also plan to practice over the years in memory of my dad. 

There is no right answer when it comes to coping with loss. Everyone handles it differently. However, frequently discussing your lost loved one and allowing your emotions to be expressed can aid in the healing process. Because the holidays aren’t just about the family that surrounds you at the table, but also about the ones who remain with you spiritually.

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Megan Thompson

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