Good Grief! Making Holidays After Death or Divorce

By Cindy Martin, LAMFT, ASAT (2), EMDR


As we near the end of the year, everyone is telling us to be happy! But what if we have experienced the loss of a loved one or the loss of a family as we have known it through divorce?  How do you manage to be happy then?  I suggest 4 things to think about:

1.    Create a New Family Tradition

2.    Surround yourself with Support

3.    Come to grips with feeling sad, but be open to feeling joyful

4.    Take steps to welcome Healing in the New Year

The holidays can often be something where we just survive rather than thrive-especially if we are in a BLENDED FAMILY!  There are only so many hours in a holiday season and the question then becomes, “who do we spend it with?”  The children often ask, “Will Santa know whether to deliver the gifts to Mommy’s house or Daddy’s house?”  Even the best plans for the holidays can be tinged with sadness because someone or something is missing that was there before.  As human beings, we don’t like CHANGE!   Statistics tell us that 20% of children live in step families, so it’s important to address these issues rather than ignore them.

1.    Create a New Family Tradition-every family has holiday assumptions, so rather than be sad that they cannot be fulfilled as in the past, make new ones that can soon become family memories as warm as the old ones.  Do what is best for your current family and your current situation.

2.   Surround yourself with Support-if certain family members are insensitive to your new circumstances, perhaps this is the year to spend time with those people who you feel supported by.  Or maybe you need to communicate to family members what makes you feel supported.  You can’t expect that they will automatically know.

3.   Come to grips with feeling sad, but be open to feeling joy- don’t be afraid to cry.  Sometimes the release is good for you.  There's no avoiding sadness when your heart is broken, but neither is there a complete absence of joy. Sometimes you're afraid to feel joy when you're grieving; it can feel like a betrayal to be happy. Or you fear that if you're too happy, those around you will think you're officially "over it" and your sorrow will no longer be tolerated.  In modeling for children, it’s good sometimes to see parents cry and then be able to be happy again afterward.  That way they can understand their own conflicting emotions.

4.   Take steps to welcome Healing in the New Year-a new year can mean a new beginning.  The holidays may bring moments of pain along with moments of happiness, but resolve to take steps to care for yourself and those you love by increasing visits, learning to listen to each others’ emotions, and perhaps getting support from professional counselors who can guide you into forming new traditions that will stabilize the family when the next holiday season rolls around.