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Tools and Tips for Navigating the Holidays as a Survivor6 minute read • Oct. 27, 2022
Navigating the holiday season after losing a loved one or close friend can be a roller coaster of happy and painful memories and emotions.
“The Days Ahead: Essential Papers” provides listings of support organizations and programs, books and websites designed to help you manage your grief.
But there are things you can do during the winter holiday season that may help you cope with your grief and rediscover the joy of the holiday season.
Everyone processes grief differently, but here are some ideas to help you navigate the holidays:
- Prepare for your feelings ahead of time: You may want to set aside a time to share memories. Or make a donation of money, clothing or toys to a homeless shelter in your loved one’s memory. If you want to stay busy, you could volunteer to organize donations.
- Plan a getaway: If your loved one died near the holidays and the memories become overwhelming, consider getting away by taking a vacation removed from the places where your memories might be the most intense. If you decide to stay home, it may help to go to a restaurant or a friend’s house to avoid the stress of preparing a holiday meal. If you find cooking therapeutic, consider preparing a meal and inviting others over.
- Ask your friends for help: If you have children at home, it may be especially stressful to try and celebrate the holidays while enduring your grief. You may want to ask a friend or relative to help by inviting your children to events with their family.
- Request help with gifts: You may be too exhausted and distracted to even think about shopping, but if you still want your children to have some special gifts, consider asking a friend to help with this, too. Give them money to pick out a certain gift or gifts. Most people are aching to do something to help a bereaved friend.
- Start a new tradition: Consider starting a new tradition, such as joining Wreaths Across America or volunteering at a homeless shelter or hospital. Or carry on a tradition that your loved one enjoyed.
- Keep your memories alive: If remembering your loved one during the holidays brings you comfort, add those memories into your holiday festivities. You might tell funny stories you shared with them, or create a special ornament or burn a candle in their memory. Or perhaps visiting the cemetery and decorating your loved one’s grave would bring you joy.
Visit TAPS for specialized help
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors is a military service organization that provides numerous resources, including the following stories to help with surviving the holiday season.
- Healing Your Grieving Heart: Embrace Self-Care This Holiday Season addresses some of the misconceptions about grief and mourning and the importance of being aware of how grief affects every aspect of your being. It also offers tips to make sure you aren’t neglecting your health during this hectic time. (Survivors can order “Healing Your Grieving Heart After a Military Death Guide” through Military OneSource.)
- Helping Yourself Grow Through Loss When You Face Holidays in Grief discusses the importance of allowing yourself to mourn during the holidays while managing your schedule and setting boundaries according to what you can handle.
- Hope for the Holidays: Practical Ideas for Healing Your Holiday Grief provides suggestions for dealing with the emptiness and loss the holidays can bring.
- Three Ways to Boost the Memories of Our Loved Ones offers ways to celebrate and honor the loved ones we will never forget.
- Klinger’s Korner: Navigating the Holidays as a Family recognizes the triggers that the season can bring but emphasizes how children can light up the season and bring joy — and how important it is to continue family traditions that they themselves may one day want to pass down.
TAPS is available 24/7 through the National Military Survivor Helpline at 800-959-8277.
Honor your loved one’s memory
You may want to find ways to celebrate your loved one’s memory and service. If you do, the Military In Lasting Tribute online memorial honors thousands of service members who died while serving honorably on active duty from 1985 to the present.
The memorial hosts a photo gallery for all the honored service members, as well as a specific page for each that can be shared, saved and printed. Each service member’s memorial page will include their name, branch of service, rank, date of death and their photo or branch of service seal.
Family members who want to include their loved one on the memorial can submit a request and photo through the Military In Lasting Tribute website at https://tribute.militaryonesource.mil.
Use these resources for survivors
Military OneSource offers programs and resources to help survivors. Here are a few:
- Support After Loss – The Essentials contains tools and services to help you cope, make informed decisions, grieve in healthy ways and begin to envision a life with new opportunities.
- Finding Support After the Death of a Loved One discusses where to find support that may be of help to you and your family, such as counseling options, including bereavement camps for children.
- Gold Star and Surviving Family Members – Resources offers support for families of deceased service members by providing them with compassionate services.
Non-medical counseling is available to eligible survivors in person, by phone, video or online chat. Call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or chat with us online to schedule an appointment with a licensed counselor.