Thoughts on Coping With Grief During the Holidays

Some Thoughts on
Getting Through Holidays & Other Special Days
(and maybe even learning to enjoy them again)

Holidays are a difficult time for individuals and families after the death of a loved one, and that’s probably especially true when the death has been within the last year or two. While other people and families are looking forward to the holidays with happy anticipation, those of us who know someone will be missing anticipate the holidays with dread and apprehension.

I’ve noticed that each year, the announcement of an upcoming holiday starts earlier and earlier. By September the Christmas items have appeared at Costco. Months before Thanksgiving, porcelain and paper turkeys, and other Thanksgiving themed items are already in the stores. We haven’t taken the first bite of the Thanksgiving turkey before the Christmas music starts. Hearing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” being sung over and over again can feel like a knife twisting in our hearts. One grief facilitator I supervised used to sing, “It’s the most miserable time of the year,” and we would all knowingly smile and nod.

It’s not just Thanksgiving and Christmas. There’s Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or any other holiday, anniversary, birthday or event your family celebrated that will never be the same now that your special person is gone.

My experience and that of others is that the weeks and days leading up to the special day are often worse than the actual day. You don’t even have to consciously be thinking about the event for it to have an affect on your mood. Many people don’t understand why they are on edge, sad, or weepy until they look at the calendar and realize an important day is close.

Following are some suggestions to help you through the holidays and other important annual events. I wish I could promise my words will magically make any pain disappear. I can’t make that promise, but I hope some of these thoughts will help you feel less alone and better able to face the day.

 Cry. Give yourself permission to cry. Crying is not mandatory and may not be your way, but if they start, just let the tears flow. Tears are nature’s way of helping us heal. They are not a sign of weakness or “falling apart.” I think that when we “fall apart,” we are, in reality, beginning to “fall together” again and have started on the path of healing and growth.

Needs Let others know what you need. You don’t have to do anything or go anywhere or be anything that forces you to pretend you are feeling better than you do. Some people will understand and some won’t. Cherish those who do understand and forgive those who can’t because they simply don’t know better.

Plan. Talk to your family and decide what you will do and what the day will look like. Will you have the usual dinner? Will you go out instead? Who will take care of what tasks? By talking to each other, you are bringing the family together and strengthening a sense of family unity. You may decide to go on just as you always have or to travel some place where there are no reminders. The important thing is that you and your family communicate. Together, you can make this day special in innovative ways as you establish or renew family rituals.

Remember. Allow time to remember the person who is gone. You can plan a memorial or create your own special way to celebrate his or her life. Light a candle, choose inspirational readings, plant a tree, and share memories. There are books on rituals or you can create your own meaningful way to remember the person you love.

Give. Consider purchasing a gift that you would have given to the person who has died and give it to a needy person or to a charity. The best tribute to your loved one is to share with others the love you would have given to your loved one. This is one important way in which you can give meaning to the life of the special person who’s gone.

Nurture yourself. Rest and eat balanced meals. Avoid sugar and alcohol because they tend to exacerbate emotions by throwing our brain and body chemistry off balance. You may want to take a walk in nature, ride your bike, participate in a sport you enjoy, allow yourself extra time in bed, take a long leisurely bath or shower—do whatever you find healing.

I want to remind you to be very gentle with yourself and with your family. Holidays and anniversaries may be anticipated with dread, but if planned and time allowed for the grief and sharing of memories, you might find some of your tears turning into joy and laughter.

The holidays and other special days will be different, but you do have an opportunity to create new rituals and memories that can eventually turn those days into something you might actually look forward to and celebrate once again.

Mom and I celebrating our last Christmas together

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