Christmas memories often triggered my emotions when I least expected it. Over the years, I have learned to cope with this scenario with the help of others who have lost someone they loved and the support of my community. I want to share my strategy for dealing with Christmas memories and the Holidays in general since they are particularly difficult to cope with compared to other times of year.
This article discusses:
• Avoiding excessive grief during the Holidays or Christmas
• Strategies for expressing your emotions
• Positivity in the Face of Tragedy
• Avoiding Drugs, Alcohol and Negative Coping Skills
• Long term and short term solutions for Christmas grief
• Creating New Holiday Rituals and Christmas Memories
• Finding the Help You Need for Grief Around the Holidays
• Helpful Hotlines and Links for Extreme Grief Coping During the Holidays
Christmas Memories Are About Closeness
Unfortunately, I have learned that it doesn’t matter if you knew the person for a couple of years or if they were a parent, you still have the same feelings of pain when they pass away. When thinking about Christmas, we are reminded of the core values of what it means to be close to someone. These ideals are definitely something that can trigger emotions to flare and tears to start falling.
When feeling closeness with other people during holiday activities, we are reminded of how close we were with that person that passed away. We once loved that closeness, but now we find it painful to be reminded of how that was taken away from us. It means that we are left feeling vulnerable and emotional.
You Don’t Want Others To See You Crying
We may also feel ashamed that we are so sad and experiencing grief during times when Christmas memories are shared. When you are with your family and you are talking about the person in the family that died, it is helpful because everyone feels the same. However, when you are alone in your grief, it can be really difficult. You may not want Christmas memories to cause you to cry in front of others during the holidays.
It’s not because we think we are being a party pooper by showing our emotions. There are simply some scenarios where an adult crying could be difficult for the other person. For example, it might be painful for a child to see you crying during the holidays because of your Christmas memories without their parent or another person you love.
How I Deal With The Christmas Memories
The best way to deal with your painful Christmas memories is to pick a time to experience them. It sounds like such a simple idea, but I have found that it’s the only thing that works. Again, I am not a therapist or trained in any way. I’m simply telling about the thing that works for me. The rest of the article are the details of my personal grief coping strategy.
Find Solitary Spaces For Your Emotions To Breathe
First of all, I think it is important not to bottle up your emotions. With this in mind, I create a time each day during the holidays where I give myself some time to cry or feel emotional. Of course, this can be next to impossible when there are lots of people in the house and things are busy.
Tip: Your normal coping strategies might NOT work during the Holidays. For example, the only option you may have available is to take a walk. If there’s a blizzard, you might have to take an extra long shower (even if the plumbing is frozen!). The point is to spend at least some time alone without distraction or interruption.
Don’t Go It Alone
I didn’t become a strong and sane person that deals well with one of the worst tragedies of the heart all alone. However, that all changed when I needed to move 1,000 miles away in order to accommodate a disability. For the first time in my life, I was left with no one to be supportive of me in an emotional state. I wound up finding support in the strangest of places.
Strategies for Grief Support
When you know that you are not dealing well with the Holidays, support is always still needed. It might sound like a crazy idea, but I have a final strategy that will always work. When you are having Christmas memories and you are sad, one of the best things to do is talk to someone else.
If you are in a city, you can always find an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting even on Christmas Day. You might have to go through strange channels (like asking the local homeless shelter about the meetings), but even a non-alcoholic can attend an AA meeting. After all, many people in AA are trying not to use alcohol in order to deal with their Christmas memories or experiences.
In this way, you are all looking for a way to cope with Christmas memories. Introduce yourself and let them know why you are there. You’ll get through your real feelings and have a chance to talk about whatever you like no matter how awful it sounds.
If You Only Have a Phone
When dealing with Christmas memories, sometimes it can be overwhelming. It can be terrible if you can’t leave the house due to weather conditions or you are geographically isolated. If you absolutely need to talk to someone, a good idea is calling one of the many hotlines that are available 24/7/365.
Even on Christmas and Thanksgiving they have someone to answer their calls. Sometimes, just a 5 minute discussion of everything you are thinking and feeling is enough to move past the pain of Christmas memories.
Christmas Memories Rituals Remember The Good Times
Everyone feels terrible when someone dies. Also, everyone deals with it differently. For some people, they have the time and space to deal with their painful Christmas memories by memorializing the passed loved one and creating new rituals. Perhaps it is as simple as lighting a candle or keeping a stocking up at the fireplace for them. Every friend group or family will ritualize differently.
I will admit that having a small ritual was important for me at Christmas the first few years after someone died. My ritual item was something Christmas related that reminded me of my departed loved one. When I wanted to remember them, I would place it next to my computer at work. Most of the time, it was just something silly like their favorite Christmas candy. I liked to keep it upbeat.
Being Prepared Is The Answer
The best strategy you can have is to know that you can be grief stricken at any time during the holidays. Once you assume that you will cry at least once everyday, you start to feel more empowered. You also start to plan times where you know it will be better to feel this way than others.
Tip: I think the most important tool is to know you will cry at some point and that you should. Don’t expect to not cry ever. That is not only unhealthy, but most likely to give you severe anxiety, anger, or want to do something unhealthy like use drugs or alcohol.
You Can Have Christmas Memory Triggers For A Few Years
Christmas memories will continue to trigger you for a couple of years even if it is just a friend or co-worker. Although grief therapy is not always necessary, it can be extremely helpful in developing the skills you need to deal with grief-related anger or anxiety.
Tip: If you give yourself time to remember, cry, and talk about how you really feel with someone who is listening, it makes a great difference in your grief experience. For this reason, if you don’t have close friends or family, consider an online or offline support group for people who have lost loved ones.
Coping With Christmas Memories The Wrong Way
One of the unfortunate side effects of losing someone you love is dealing with this by using drugs or alcohol. There are also other ways to cope with pain that are also detrimental like gambling, binge eating, anorexia, or compulsive shopping. It is obvious that, in these situations, you have chosen the negative ways of dealing with grief.
Some experts repeatedly told me that losing a loved one interrupts your life completely for almost 2-3 years. The healing process of grief is long winded. For this reason, be prepared with a positive coping strategy so that the negative coping strategy doesn’t edge its way in.
Pick Positive Self-Healing Activities
Self healing activities are ways to trick the brain into thinking about other things. It’s nice to use the time to relax and calm your body. It helps the body to be engaged in other parts of the brain and vice versa. All of this soothes a mind troubled with losing a loved one. It might not be a solution within the first month after losing someone but it helps long term. Many of these activities include various forms of art therapy like crafting, music making, building, and gardening.
If you don’t have financial resources, consider appealing yourself to a local religious organization and let them know you need a hand with your coping skills and are there to help too. Volunteering is working but when you are grief stricken, getting your mind off of your grief is easier when you are working on a project with your hands.
Tip: For the grieving person, new faces have no expectations and put much less social pressure on your grief behavior. This is why people like to go hang out in new bars when they are sad. Little do they know, they just want to hang out with strangers but don’t need the alcohol. Instead of going to a bar, go to another place full of strangers instead like a place that needs volunteers.
Most people like this suggestion because volunteering means being in a new environment where they don’t have the social pressures of grieving in front of people that they already know. Religious organizations are understanding of the grief cycle and welcome those who need long term support but also want to lend a hand.
You Will Be A Grief Warrior Too (Even If You Go to the ER)
Of course, if you are feeling overwhelmed and your body feels bad from memories, crying, feeling anxiety, or depression, don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to appeal to your local Emergency Room. It’s what it’s there for and they treat folks in extreme grief just like every other type of ailment.
It can be difficult to admit that you were so sad that you had to go to the ER for chest pains, etc,. However, it is common for grief to feel this bad. If this happens to you, don’t worry! You’ll look back and laugh one day because, at some point in your life, you will be a Grief Warrior and passing on your tips and survival strategies to those who really need you when they need it most.
Help Is Always Within Your Reach (Even On Christmas and Thanksgiving)
Good luck and remember that help for your painful memories of those that have passed away are always as close as the internet and the telephone. Use these tools and know that you are not alone, that you will live through this, and you don’t need unhealthy habits to make it through.
Here is a helpful list of various 1-800 hotlines:
Essortment.com Hotlines Directory
This is for AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) that uses a ZIP code locator tool:
This article is a great introduction to the process of grief:
Here are online Grief Communities: