Author and Spiritual Teacher Iyanla Vanzant on Missing Loved Ones During the Holidays: ‘Make It a Celebration’

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Acclaimed best-selling writer and spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant knows what it’s like to grieve a loved one during the holidays.

“December 25th, Christmas day, 2003 at 10:18 AM, my daughter took her last breath,” Vanzant told Inside Edition Digital. Her daughter Gemmia was 31 when she died of cancer. “On Christmas day. And Christmas was her favorite holiday.”

The author noted how difficult the holiday season can be when someone you love is no longer there.

“So the first year,” she explained, “I started getting hysterical around Thanksgiving knowing that Christmas was coming and it would be my first Christmas without her, and I couldn’t do it.”

By year two, Vanzant says she turned her grief into a celebration.

“I made a different choice,” she said. “And we don’t think that even though the person may be gone or we have an empty chair. Or people that we don’t necessarily want to be with are coming to sit at our table, we don’t think we have a choice, but you get to choose how to move into every experience.”

The holiday season can leave many feeling sad and vulnerable, especially people experiencing grief. But Vanzant does have advice on how to work through it.

“For those people who have that missing seat at the table, do everything you know they loved,” she suggests.

“If they loved Easter eggs, put some Easter eggs under the Christmas tree. If they loved baking or whatever it was, cook that and have it in their name and share the joyful, happy memories. Choose to make it a celebration as opposed to a dismal memory.”

She also suggests not to feel stuck in old traditions that no longer serve you.

“For people to be able to shift out of the habitual programming, to be able to shift out of the dysfunctional traditions, to be able to shift out of the self-denial and say, ‘This is what I’m doing,’ and be OK with that? Yay. Oh, joy. Oh, rapture. It’s a good thing.”

To honor her daughter, Vanzant has revived a body care company called Master Peace, founded by Gemmia. It helps continue her legacy.

“As a mom, to carry on my daughter’s legacy and to be a demonstration to her daughter, my granddaughter, of what it’s like to walk into, to carry a vision, it’s humbling,” she said. “It’s humbling that the Creator would give me such a high calling.”

And however difficult this season may be, Vanzant wants to remind people that they can get through the tough times.

“And whoever you are and wherever you are, you have been prepared by your challenges, your difficulties, your experiences,” she said. “You have been prepared to walk through whatever this moment is.”