Thanksgiving is just days away and anxiety might be setting in as we prepare to see what the festivities will look like this year … during a global pandemic. The stress over getting sick combined with the emotional burnout of wearing masks while we eat with friends, keep an extra six feet away from our closest relatives, or ZOOM call into family dinner is a lot to take in.
But for those of us grieving the loss of a loved one, COVID is just one added layer to an emotionally complex holiday. Thanksgiving can be a painful reminder of our missing loved ones, our changed family dynamics, and a bittersweet combination of the joy in the present and longing for the past when our love one was with us.
We asked our Community Manager Abby, who lost her father almost two years ago, to share her top tips for surviving Thanksgiving while grieving. Take a look!
Have more? Tell us in the comments!
1) Make space for your grief.
There are triggers everywhere during Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s the empty chair at the end of the table where he used to sit or that someone forgot to make our person’s signature pie this year. Whatever the trigger may be, it is helpful to make space for grief and anticipate that we might feel big emotions. Make a plan for coping with potential triggers to make it easier to manage in the moment.
For example, mine is taking my dog for a walk around the block or taking space in my room to tune-out the overwhelm as I tune-in to my favorite podcast.
2) Keep an old tradition (or start a new one!)
Keep your loved one’s memory alive by carrying on their favorite tradition. Carrying on legacies that that my Dad left behind, such as running the Turkey Trot 5k that he did every year, helps me feel close to him and appreciate the memories we made when he was still here.
If it’s too triggering to carry on a tradition without them, that’s okay too. We know that the traditions just don’t feel the same without them. My dad and I shared a love of Christmas music and we would always start listening too early in the year. I’ve found it hard to listen to Christmas music at all since he’s been gone. So maybe you start a new tradition, one that signifies new beginnings and honors their life.
Both are a good fit. Do what feels right for you and remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Trust in your process.
3) Say yes to help.
Support is key during the holidays. Take some of the weight off your shoulders and accept when friends want to help you shop for groceries, meal prep or take the lead on organizing gatherings (even if they’re e-gatherings this year). My mom has been my role model for surrendering to her grief when it’s needed, she doesn’t let her pride get in the way of family members wanting to do things for her during the holidays. Last Christmas, my grandma wrapped all my mom’s gifts so she could visit my Dad’s grave alone. You could see the weight lifted off her shoulders by just that little piece of support.
It is also super helpful to surround yourself with others who “get it” and might not be so merry too. Venting can be therapeutic — especially with people who truly understand your pain points and frustration.
4) Don’t feel guilty if you just can’t.
Give yourself permission to excuse yourself from gatherings or anything else you don’t want to commit to when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Last year I got overwhelmed by pretty much everything during the holidays, I felt guilty when I wasn’t thinking or talking about my dad but when we did talk about him I got extremely testy and sad. My survival tactic was taking lots and lots of space from the commotion, either in my room or on a walk around the block.
Covid isn’t the only reason you might need social distance this year!
5) MOVE your body!
Exercise isn’t just about burning calories from eating too much on Thanksgiving – it’s about processing big feelings and emotions too! When I get sad about my dad’s absence during big events, I do a barre class to stay grounded. When I get angry about losing him at such a young age, I go to a cycling class and spin the anger away. And when I feel guilty, like I should have done more to prevent his suicide, I blast music through my headphones and run as far as I can.
Take a moment and get away to do your favorite yoga flow, for a run or walk the dog around the block.
Hi, I’m Abby! I’m the Community Manager for moveTHRU. I was a Junior at the University of Denver when I lost my Dad to suicide. You can read my story of loss here. Through fitness and moveTHRU, I’ve found my safe space to talk about death without fear of being a “downer,” learned how to cope with my grief, and most importantly moveTHRU and process the loss of my dad. Grief can be very isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. As the Community Manager, I hope to expand the reach of moveTHRU so that more people can have access to the moveTHRU resources and support that I wish I had from the very beginning of my grief journey.