Coping with Grief and Loss During the Holiday Season
Talk about your grief and your loved one
During the holiday season, don’t be afraid to express your feelings of grief. Ignoring your grief won’t make the pain go away and talking about it openly makes you feel better. Spending as much time as possible with friends and relatives can help you feel understood and validated in your grief. Include your loved one’s name in your conversations during the holidays. If you are able to talk openly, other people may recognize your need to remember your loved one who has died and be able to talk about them as well. If it feels right for you take some time to share memories, tell stories, and look at photo albums.
Surround yourself with people who love and support you
Identify those friends and relatives who understand that the holiday season can increase your sense of loss and who will allow you to talk openly about your feelings. Find those persons who encourage you to be yourself and accept all of your feelings.
Set realistic expectations for yourself
Remind yourself that this year will be different. Decide if you can handle the same responsibilities you’ve had in the past and if not, take others up on their efforts to help. Feelings of loss can leave you fatigued. Your low energy level may naturally slow you down. Listen to what your body and mind are telling you. Take care of yourself – physically and emotionally- and lower your own expectations about your physical and emotional capacities during the holiday season.
Try to avoid cancelling the holidays despite the temptation
You may already feel stressed so try not to overextend yourself. Avoid isolating yourself, at the same time recognizing your need to have some special time for yourself. It’s okay to avoid some circumstances you don’t feel ready to handle. Understand also that merely “keeping busy” will not really distract you from your grief, but may actually increase stress and postpone the real need to talk out thoughts and feelings related to your grief.
Do what feels right for you during the holidays
Well-meaning family and friends often try to prescribe what is good for you during the holidays. Instead of going along with their plans, focus on what you want to do. Discuss your wishes with a caring, trusted friend. Talking about those wishes may help you clarify what it is you need and want to do during the holidays.
Plan ahead for family gatherings
Decide which family traditions you want to continue this year and consider new rituals and traditions you would like to begin following the death of your loved one. Some people find comfort in old traditions and others find them unbearably painful. If you feel that some traditions are better left in the past be sure to include other family in those changes. This will help you to anticipate activities, rather than just reacting to whatever happens. Getting caught off guard may create feelings of panic, fear and anxiety during a time when your feelings of grief are already heightened. When it comes to attending events, as questions like, “Who will be there” and “How long is the event supposed to last?” to further prepare yourself. Brainstorming some ways to respond to difficult questions that may be asked may ease your mind when it comes to attending these gatherings as well.
Photos from the Annual Willow House Holiday Remembrance Gathering
Embrace your memories
Memories are one of the best legacies we have after the death of a loved one and holidays always remind us of times past. Instead of ignoring these memories, share them with your family and friends. Know that your memories may be woven with many feelings – including happiness and sadness. Your memories may bring laughter and they may bring tears – each of these is a real and honest emotion that deserves to be expressed. Memories of the person who died were made in love and need to be honored and treasured and affirmed.
Give yourself permission to feel
Allow yourself to feel joy, sadness, anger, etc. No one emotion is better than the other and don’t beat yourself up for feeling a sense of happiness during the holidays. Avoid self medicating with things like alcohol. If you find yourself needing a boost, go for a jog, walk the dog, or even write in a journal.
Express your spiritual beliefs
During the holidays, you may find a renewed sense of spirituality or faith or discover a new set of beliefs. Associate with people who understand and respect your need to talk about these beliefs. You may find it comforting to attend a holiday service or special religious ceremony.
Explore ways to acknowledge and honor your loved one's memory
Below are some ideas to consider:
- Light a memorial candle; consider incorporating their favorite smell or color
- Hang a special decoration in memory of your loved one
- Keep a place setting for them during a holiday meal
- Buy a gift your loved one would have enjoyed and donate it to a local charity
Adapted from Alan Wolfelt, The Dougy Center, and Robin Fiorelli