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Family holiday at the tree

In anticipating the first holiday season without your loved one, it is natural to feel sad and anxious. Many things about the holidays can make the absence felt more acutely, one of which is the tradition of exchanging gifts.

The absence of one close to you with whom you used to give or receive gifts can be very difficult. You may miss thinking of a great gift for them and may miss receiving a special gift in return. But honestly, most of us cannot remember material things we received from one year to the next. It’s the little things about our shared life with that person that we probably miss the most.

These gifts are intangibles. They cannot be boxed and gift-wrapped, displayed in your home or shown off to others. Often they are not easily described, and it is hard to put them into words. But they are there just the same.

Think about all of the “gifts” you have received from your person who died: a hug when you needed it most, a special friendship, a good, down-to-your-toes laugh, knowing you are loved. The gift could be important things you have learned about life just through knowing them or something you discovered about yourself through taking care of them. Maybe you discovered that you have the ability to love another person in return, fully and unconditionally.

These intangibles are gifts received in your heart — they are inside. And because they are inside, they are protected and are a part of you. And unlike things on the outside, they cannot be lost or taken away.

Sometimes, our relationship with the person who died was complicated. You might wonder if there are any gifts to find! The challenge of good grief work is to come out on the other side of the loss experience changed in a positive way. You may discover new things about yourself on this journey through grief. The truth is, you are a survivor and you are evolving from this loss a different person than you were before. Be willing to explore and to receive this gift.

We encourage you during this holiday season and beyond to reflect on and claim the gifts you have received from knowing your person who died. You might want to share them with your family.

In addition, whether or not you gather with family, we encourage you to find simple, deliberate ways to acknowledge the absence of your person, reflect upon the special gifts you have received from this person, and to be thankful for their having been — and continuing to be — ever present in your life.