How to Deal With Loss Around the Holidays, Plus Ways to Make New Memories
This year was an exceptionally tough one for my family in terms of loss. In the span of two weeks this October, we lost my grandfather (a very special man who helped raise me), Hunter (my soul dog of 10 years), and my boyfriend’s grandmother. And, now, as we’re coming up on the holidays, the reality that they won’t be here to share with us is beginning to set in. If you’re reading this, I’m sure there’s a reason and I’d like to express my sympathy to you as loss is never easy, no matter the time of year. I’d also like to offer some ideas for honoring your loved ones to, hopefully, to provide comfort this holiday season.
How I’m Handling the Start of the Holidays
Although I’m not particularly religious (more spiritually), I felt called to honor all who passed this year by creating my first ofrenda. It translates to “offering” in Spanish and is a three-tier (sometimes 7 tiered) altar that’s built for the Mexican celebration, Día de los Muertos aka the Day of the Dead.
The tradition is to start putting it together on the 30th or 31st of October and leave it up until November 2nd. But, honestly, it came out so stunning that I’ve decided to keep it up all month! I invited neighbors over to join in and include photos and mementos from their loved ones alongside mine. One celebrated her dog, another his husband and father-in-law and, as you can see, it all blended together beautifully.
We just had to add my boyfriend’s Padre’s poncho as my grandparents were die-hard fans!
Another way I’m planning to celebrate my grandfather is by arranging for the whole family to wear shirts that represent one of his passions. Here in San Diego, the sport OTL (over-the-line) is a huge tradition and he was an avid participant and attendee for over 50 years. So, this Thanksgiving, we’re all going to wear his shirts and his sunglasses, make a dish he would have made (he was such a great cook and his main way he showed love) raise a drink, and remember him. He didn’t want a traditional funeral so this is our way of celebrating his life and, just maybe, creating a new tradition.
Decluttering and Downsizing After Death
Aside from making new memories and honoring them, the reality for many is that there are logistics to deal with after a death. Most immediately is a funeral and burial (if they have one) but then there’s the responsibility of going through their things and emptying out the home. Being a professional organizer meant that my family was happy to be able to lean on me a little with this take, which I gladly accepted. The Simply Luxe team and I rolled up our sleeves and got to work sorting, packing up, and donating every item in my grandparent’s home.
Even though it was personal for me, my professional side kicked in, and, together, we were able to get an incredible amount done in a short amount of time. To anyone who’s not trained in doing a job like this, it could take months, if not years, to accomplish. And, often, you don’t have that luxury of time! So, if you feel like you could use help in downsizing your loved one’s home (especially if you’re in a time crunch), I’d encourage you to reach out to a professional organizer as it’s absolutely worth it.
Of course, if you live in the San Diego or Southern California area, Simply Luxe (https://simplyluxe.org/get-in-touch/) would be more than happy to help during this difficult time.
Many of the items on the ofrenda were things I kept from my grandparent’s home.
Making space for sentimental items You’ll more than likely keep some things from your loved ones that either remind you of them or that you know they wanted you to have. As important as it is to declutter their homes, it’s just as important to not clutter yours up. Because if their stuff starts to overwhelm your space, you might actually find yourself feeling resentful as opposed to sentimental.
One thing I want you to remember is that: when everything is special, nothing is special.
So the goal is to keep the things that truly speak to you and also incorporate them into your things rather than stuff them into a storage bin. Here are some ideas for displaying sentimental items without creating clutter.
1. Display Photo Boxes
An alternative to shadow boxes (which totally work too!) this keepsake box by Savor allows you to put a photo of your loved one in the front of the box and tuck in cards, letters, and other little trinkets inside it. You can then display the whole box on a bookcase or dresser top. FYI they have a box specific for pets as a place to store their important things while they’re still with you and then the sentimental stuff once they cross that rainbow bridge.
2. Upcycle Items
Upcycle items for storage It doesn’t have to be a piece of furniture but if you can fit a hutch or an armoire heirloom in your house, do it! On a smaller scale, you can repurpose a unique dish that was your grandmother’s as a jewelry tray or her favorite vase as a crock for kitchen tools. This is when you get to stretch your creativity and be organized in the process!
3. Create a Quilt
If you have a lot of sentimental fabric (i.e. like my grandpa’s OTL t-shirts!) and you’re crafty, consider making a blanket out of them to condense down their volume. And if you’re not so handy with a sewing machine, you can check out companies such as Project Repat (https://www.projectrepat.com/) or Memory Stich (https://memorystitch.com/) who will do it for you!
4. Put Things to Use
If they’re in perfectly good condition, use them in your everyday life! A set of salt and pepper shakers, a clock, or a side table lamp can all be incorporated into your home and actually serve a function while stirring up happy memories.
5. Hang a Gallery Wall
As you can spot behind the ofrenda, I’m a fan of a good gallery wall. If you create a theme, such as a collection of photos of your loved ones, it will seem more intentional and less cluttered. Feel free to mix up different frames or try a service like Mixtiles which provides matching frames with your printed photos.
However you choose to honor and celebrate those you’ve lost this past year, I’m sending you lots of peace and joy as you go through this first holiday season without them.