For those who recently suffered the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be an unfortunate reminder of the empty space in their lives.
It is important to be prepared for the feelings that may come to the surface when one faces the first - or second or even 10th - holiday season after a loss, says grief counselor Sandra McCauley. At the Haven counseling center in Annandale, she conducts a workshop on coping with the holidays after a loss.
Ms. McCauley says the holidays are particularly tough because they bring out all the family rituals and reminders of the past.
"It is a double whammy," she says. "When someone dies, we are reminded of all the rituals that took place. This happens at a time when we are expected to be higher-functioning, but we may be low. If you need a break from celebrating, give yourself permission to do so."
People will understand if you opt out of familiar holiday celebrations and rituals, she says.
"One man whose wife died typed a letter to everyone on his Christmas list," Ms. McCauley says. "He explained that his wife died during the year and to please not send him any Christmas gifts. He told his friends and relatives that if they wanted to do something nice, to jot down a few nice things about his wife. Rituals like that can be helpful when you have had a loss."
Preparing oneself ahead of time for the flood of emotion that holidays bring can help, says Jim Kennedy, an Orlando, Fla., man whose wife of 33 years died in 1996. Mr. Kennedy is executive director of the Grief Recovery Online Web site founded by Widows and Widowers (www.groww.org).
"Christmas was Liz's holiday," he says. "We must have spent hundreds of dollars on Christmas ornaments. I said in her eulogy that the holidays will never be the same. …