Christmas is next week and many are looking forward to spending time with loved ones: family and friends all around. For many, Christmas can be an especially hard time because someone they love isn’t there. Whether it’s because of death, illness, military deployment, extended work travel or a broken relationship, celebrating holidays with a loved one absent can make them seem rather blue.
When there has been a death or broken relationship, the landmark dates and anniversaries are hard dates to get through. The first Christmas without the missing person can seem wrong somehow. Generally speaking, the loss needs to be acknowledged and not minimized in order to be managed well. When there is a divorce, occasionally people believe they shouldn’t have any sadness about it if they were the partner to initiate it. Even so, divorce is a loss in a similar way that a death is a loss and grief can take a full year or more to resolve.
With a death, often there is some relief or positive feeling when one does something special to remember the person specifically. For some that may mean leaving an empty place setting at the table, for others it may be serving a legacy recipe or traditional food that person may have made. For the first Christmas after a death, other people like to commemorate by doing something more lasting in the deceased’s honor or memory such as making a donation or planting a tree. Others may just raise a glass in celebration of the love felt still for the person they are missing.
For those whose loved one isn’t with them because of military deployment or extended work travel, usually it helps to make some sort of special connection. Thankfully technology and services such as Skype or Facetime give us options for connection that didn’t exist before. Perhaps one family with small kids may read a traditional story together or share what was being left for Santa. Presents could be opened “together” depending on how far away and what condition the telephonic or internet connection was in.
Although there are many options for coping with a holiday missing someone important, it’s really helpful for everyone else to keep in mind that the holidays aren’t always a purely joyful time for all people. If you know someone who is missing a loved one this holiday season, don’t expect them to just be happy because it’s the holidays. Include them in plans, especially if they are alone, but also give them some space where they need it. Talk to them about the person they wish were celebrating with them. Ask if there’s anything they want to do, if there is any way you can help and then follow through.
Whether you are the person missing someone or someone close to that person feeling sad, be gentle. It’s ok to acknowledge that this holiday might be blue instead of festive and bright.
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