Loss and grief are often magnified during the holiday season, but so is the power of gratitude. After losing a loved one, gratefulness and giving thanks is not something that many people contemplate in the middle of grieving. At the holidays, practicing gratitude can help you find purpose in your grief and honor the emotions and memories that arise this time of year. As unnatural as it may feel, gratitude can be a powerful source of healing.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to handling loss during the holiday season, but there are several ways to honor yourself and the memory of your loved one through gratitude over the holidays.
Start Small: Recognize the Little Things
When healing from a major loss, you may lose sight of small blessings. Grief can feel all-consuming, which makes something like gratitude seem silly, uncalled for, or overwhelming. Shifting from grief to gratefulness might not come naturally and won’t happen overnight, so start small. Make a list of tiny everyday blessings: a vibrant sunset, a warm sweater, a stranger holding the door open for you. Take note of at least one small thing to be grateful for each day. Being mindful of the little things that make your life more beautiful, more fulfilling, or more joyful can help you move through your grief and develop self-compassion.
Put It on Paper: Write a Letter of Gratitude
With the loss of a loved one, writing a letter of gratitude and acknowledging all the things you loved and appreciated about the person, what you learned from them, and how they helped mold your life can be a powerful tool for healing and transformation. This is a deliberate act, one that focuses your gratitude into a physical form. Once you’ve written the letter, consider sharing it with someone close to you. If you prefer, you may also keep it in a gratitude journal that you update over time – on special dates, annually around the holidays, or whenever you need to remind yourself of what you’re grateful for.
Talk It Out: Expressing Grief & Gratitude
Give yourself permission to talk about it. It may seem like holidays aren’t the best time to bring up loss, but limiting or minimizing the reality of your grief will only make this season harder for you. Start by leaning on friends and loved ones, both those who knew the person who has passed and those who only know you. You may find that making an appointment with a professional, like a therapist or grief counselor, is especially helpful. You could also find an in-person or online support group. Listening about others’ grief journeys and how they’ve worked through their loss may help you embrace your experiences and teach you new ways to practice gratitude.
Start Something New: Memories & Traditions
During the holiday season, you may feel overwhelmed by memories and traditions that you used to enjoy with your loved one. By creating new ways to honor these traditions, some weight will come off your shoulders and gratefulness will feel more possible. This could look like altering old traditions to make them fit better with this new phase in your life. If facing family or friends around the holidays maxes out your emotional capacity, you can choose to stay home and enjoy the holidays solo. Just be sure to not isolate yourself for too long. Being with others who can share what they’re grateful for or their favorite memories of your loved one will keep your spirits up.
Allow Acceptance: Grieving is Normal
Finding peace after accepting your loss usually comes before any feelings of gratitude can rise to the surface. Life without your special person feels foreign, like something – someone – is missing. That feeling will likely never entirely go away, but by accepting your grief as it is, even at the holidays, you give yourself a chance to heal. Allow time and space for your grief to be felt, and you’ll allow gratitude to be felt too. Remember that you’re grieving as a result of the love you have for the person who’s passed. Be grateful for your memories of them, whatever length of time you enjoyed with them, and the special bond you shared.
Ideally, practicing gratitude should be more than a one-time holiday exercise. No matter the time of year, gratitude opens the door for you to reflect on the time you spent with your loved one while being thankful for new and old memories. Living in grief and gratitude is, unfortunately, not easy. But as painful as it may be this time of year, remember that the grief you experience during a time of loss shows the deep love and connection you have for your loved one – and that’s a beautiful thing to be grateful for.