When you lose someone to suicide, everything can feel different. Even (and maybe especially) traditions and customs you’ve learned to look forward to can feel strange and “not right” without your loved one. During the holidays, this means figuring out what kind of “new normal” works for you. Maybe you relish in these old traditions because they remind you of your loved one. Maybe doing classic holiday activities without them feels like too much, and you’d rather do something different — or not do anything at all.
However you’re choosing to spend the holidays this year after losing someone to suicide, we want you to know there is no wrong way to grieve. To get some insight from people who’ve been there, Teen Vogue asked people in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s community to share one message or piece of advice they would tell someone who’s spending the holidays without their loved ones.
“We skipped Christmas Day last year, and it was amazing. If you really think about it, it’s just another day. Not any sadder than the day before or the day after.” — Jenifer D.
“Just breathe. If you need to excuse yourself and have a few moments alone, then do it. I like to talk about my brother a lot during a holiday. I like to think about what he would be doing if he were there. It works well for me but may not work well for someone else. Do what feels right for you!” — Ronni W.
“I enjoy the family time. It’s something about the togetherness to get you through the tough time! As a suicide loss survivor, I have opened my eyes to life! Enjoy life, and love love love! My boys and I like to tell stories about their daddy, and we talk about what an amazing person he was. The first year Brandon was gone, my boys and I didn’t do the holiday thing. I know that sounds like a contradiction to what I just said, but the firsts are the hardest. It was hard to put a smile on. So we went to the cemetery and had a breakfast out there. I guess what I’m trying to say is, do what makes you feel better. What’s good for you may not be what’s good for someone else!” — Candice B.
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you how to grieve. There’s no right or wrong answer. Just human, individual responses. — Don K.
“It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to cry at Christmas dinner. But try to remember memories of your loved on those days. I lost my dad December 22, and that Christmas was the hardest — every holiday season is hard. But I choose to remember his impatience on opening presents and his love of deer hunting. Surround yourself with your loved ones, but don’t be afraid to take a minute or an hour or even a day to yourself.” — Vicky P.
“I lost my brother December 20, 2002, so the holidays are especially sensitive for me. What I would say to someone newly grieving is to allow themselves to feel however they feel. You don’t need to subscribe to anyone else’s timeline to appease their comfort. Take the time you need to get through the holiday. If you have young children, as I did at the time of my loss, don’t be afraid to let them see you cry, it gives them permission to cry too — and those tears carry so much healing. Sending hugs and love your way, it never goes away, but I promise it gets softer.” — Sue K.
“You do what you need to survive the holidays. Do as little or as much as you want/need to do. You don’t have to justify your actions or decisions to anybody. The first Christmas without my son (this is my 11th), I purchased all new blue and silver ornaments in honor of him. Blue is his favorite color. So every year I put up his tree.” — Tina S.
“I skipped last Christmas and went to Mexico. I brought my Matthew’s ashes with me and left a bit of him there in a special place. It’s about recognizing what you need to get through it and for me that meant separating myself from the chaos and emotion of the day. If you decide to try it, give yourself an easy out to go when you’ve had enough. My journey has been about knowing what I need, when I need it and that he’s always here with me.” — Sara B.
“I would say the most important thing is to take time out and care for yourself; eat well, get some exercise, stay hydrated, minimize alcohol use. Don’t feel obligated to attend every party and event, just do what you can. Find a local support group in your area, and attend regularly. If your spiritual and attend church, keep going and ask for any resources there that can help you. Lean on ‘safe’ people during this time, and accept help from others. Try and find a good grief counselor. Don’t be afraid to cry, cry as much as you need to. Most important — make time alone, but don’t isolate yourself.” — Jessica C.
“Set boundaries. For me, I told people don’t hug me. A hug was a sure way for me to lose it. It’s OK if you find yourself smiling or even laughing. It doesn’t mean you don’t miss your loved one. Talk about your loved one so other people will know it’s OK. Just go easy on yourself and let others know what you need and what you don’t.” — Pamela R.
Read more on TeenVogue.com.