THE BLOG
12/27/2015 11:00 am ET Updated Dec 27, 2016

The Holiday Heartache: How to Deal When You've Lost a Loved One

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It is that time of year; carols will be sung and bells will be rung. The holiday spirit is apparent everywhere in the outside world, but inside, the mood is anything but festive. It is the empty chair at the dinner table, the shortened gift list, the burden of having to redefine the "celebration."

For many, myself included, this season can often bring grim and painful reminders of the loss of a loved one, pet, relationship or job. We find ourselves forcing a smile and wishing folks well to mask our sadness and depression.

I lost my mother 18 years ago, a week before Thanksgiving and a week before what would have been her 60th birthday. This year, Thanksgiving Day fell on my mother's birthday. Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday. My mother was the one who hosted the family dinners and did all the cooking for years. The Thanksgiving celebration changed once she passed away. Our family never quite recovered. We do celebrate, but it is not the same celebration. And, for me, I can't help but to feel a bit empty inside. After all these years, a part of me wonders, "Would I be dishonoring my mother if I were to feel happy and celebrate at 100 percent?"

How does one get to happy? It can feel alienating when everyone else seems to be happy but you aren't sharing that emotion. No one relishes in the burden of living in an alternate universe, where you question: "What is wrong with me?" "Why can't I just be happy?" "Go along to get along?"

1. There are no simple answers
Feelings and emotions are supposed to be complicated. And, there is nothing wrong with you for feeling the way you feel. That's what makes us human and gives us a heartbeat. So, go ahead and cry if you want to. Give yourself permission to let it all out; it is only natural.

2. Develop your own personal meaning for the holidays
If you were to erase the holiday advertisements, commercials, decorations and lights, songs, cards, gifts, parties and movies--except for A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is all about discovering a deeper meaning to Christmas--from the time period of November 15 to January 1, what would you be left with? Let's think about it. What is the true meaning of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and the New Year? Beyond Webster's Dictionary and spiritual meanings of each day, what personal significance do these holidays have? For me, each holiday is simply meant for spending time with the ones we cherish. Whether in person, by phone or a simple text message, it is the thought and interaction that counts. And, this includes the everlasting love we have for those who are dearly departed.

3. Discover ways to honor and celebrate the life and legacy of your loved one
Old acquaintances don't have to be forgotten. Every year, I find a way to honor and celebrate my mother--whether it is enjoying her favorite foods and colors or looking through pictures and sharing stories. I discover a way to love, engage and include her in the holiday. Nothing could ever replace her, nor should it. However, we do not have to forget, overlook or suppress our feelings and memories of those who are no longer with us.

During the holiday season, let's be true to ourselves, honor our feelings -- happy or sad -- without feeling guilty. Some days there might not be any bright side. And other days, we may allow ourselves to ask, "If my loved one were living, would he or she want me to spend the holiday having a good time?" I'd imagine 99.9 percent of us would respond "Yes!" to that question.
Mable Ivory is a social entrepreneur, Brazil cultural ambassador, artist manager, writer, and humanitarian.

This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at strongertogether@huffingtonpost.com.