Dorothy lost her husband of 30 years this past year. She knew the holidays would be hard but didn’t know they would be this difficult. Every ornament she hung reminded her of him. The cookies she baked were his favorites. Even her adult kids couldn’t help but talk about what their dad would be doing. She tried so hard to put on a good face, but it felt like torture.
Worse yet, she developed anxiety and fear about spending part of the holidays alone. On large occasions, Dorothy was going to be surrounded by family, but on the nights in between, she was by herself. This is the first time things will be different. And it is a bit scary for her. Here are seven tips for surviving the holidays without a partner.
- Be honest. It is easy to stay busy and distracted during the holidays so as not to think or feel the change. While this can be an acceptable coping mechanism for the immediate, denying the difference over a long period of time causes lasting issues. Instead take time away from everyone to acknowledge, process, and emote. Embrace the sadness rather than blocking it. If needed, force the emotions out by watching a sappy movie. Do this exercise alone so true honesty can be achieved.
- Be patient. More than likely family and friends will be so caught up in their own holiday experience that they will forget this holiday will be atypical. Trying to get them to experience the same level of disappointment will result in frustration and further isolation. A gentle reminder is more effective than harsh words. Find one or two people with sufficient levels of empathy to express anxiety about the holiday. Patience is for others but also for you. Grieving a loss takes time and should not be rushed especially during the holidays.
- Be proactive. Reach out to friends and family inquiring about their holiday plans as a way of reminding them this holiday will be unique. If an invitation for something completely outside of the norm is offered, do not immediately discount it. It might just be what is needed this season. Otherwise, do not wait for an invitation. Take the initiative and make plans ahead of time. This is not the time to be alone or without a strong support network.
- Be realistic. The absence of someone will create a dark cloud over a normally joyous time. Often it is the simple unexpected things that catch a person by surprise. It could be an ornament on the tree, a favorite holiday song, a special tradition that was shared only with them, or the absence of other friends and family that normally are present. This year will be hard but it won’t be like this every year. As the years’ pass, the pain will lessen but the fond memories do not need to disappear.
- Be flexible. This is a time of adjustment into possibly new traditions. At first, things might not go so smoothly. It might seem unfamiliar, uncomfortable, distant, or even cold. Plans may not work out as expected, so be willing to be malleable. Accept this season for what it is, at the time of transition and have a back-up plan just in case. It is better to have several plans and not need all of them than it is to have too few and need more.
- Be reflective. After the holidays, take the time to look back and see what did and did not work well. Just because something was done this year, does not mean the following years need to be the same. Talk to friends and family about their favorite traditions. Consider the benefits of doing something totally out of the ordinary such as a cruise or destination holiday. The excitement of a new place every year might be just what is needed going forward.
Dorothy followed the advice and found that while the holidays were painful, she at least had a plan of action. This was far better than not doing anything at all.