The holidays can be a stressful time for many people. Those that have recently lost a loved one, or are marking the anniversary of the death of a loved one, may find the holiday season especially difficult. The best way to cope with holiday grief is to mentally prepare oneself for it. There is nothing you can do to prevent holiday grief from happening, and you shouldn’t aim for that. Grief is a natural and healthy part of life. But there is some advice you can heed in order to quell overwhelming sadness that may come with the holidays.
Rethink Holiday Traditions
One of the most difficult and most necessary things many will have to do this time of year is rethink family holiday traditions. There’s no need to do every activity you used to do this time of year, especially if you’re grieving someone who has very recently died. Activities such as making Christmas cards, baking cookies, attending church, or hosting holiday parties may seem too difficult now, and you should skip one or many of your usual traditions if they’re too painful. Set realistic expectations for yourself early on so that you won’t feel disappointed when some things don’t get done this year.
For those that may have lost someone not so recently, it may also be important to begin new traditions this holiday season to help make a transition and begin making positive memories.
Grieve Without Judgment
Don’t feel ashamed of your emotions. Use this time of grief to reflect and remember the happy times you and the deceased shared. If you feel like crying, do so. Don’t let others make you feel bad for missing a party or church service; if they care for you they will respect your personal grieving process.
Honor and Celebrate
Remembering a loved one can be powerfully soothing during the holidays. It can bring a smile to your face and positive memories to your mind. While many feel they should try to forget or push aside their memories during the holidays, it can actually be healthier to express those feelings instead. Write to your loved one in a journal, a letter or a blog and tell them about your feelings, your holiday plans, your sadness or your happiness. Expressing these thoughts can make the holidays seem a little lighter. Some will even put up a decoration, play their favorite music or light a candle that reminds them of the deceased. Having this little reminder helps us feel like they are not truly gone.
Look To Others
Surrounding yourself with people who care for you and understand what you’re going through is another great way to make it through a difficult holiday season. This support base may take the form of an organized support group, church group, caring coworkers, or your good friends and family. By connecting with those you love you will be focusing on positive aspects of your life. Sharing your feelings with those that understand what you are going through or who loved you has a powerful impact on your frame of mind.
Give Back To Others
Joining a volunteer organization is also a great way to cope with holiday grief. Service projects keep your mind focused on others, and the satisfaction that comes from helping those in need can’t be beat. You can volunteer at a local shelter, retirement home, or library. Or, if the weather permits, join a beautification team and help clean up the parks and streets in your town where you may have shared time with the deceased. A little volunteering can make a big difference in your life as well as in your community.
Finally, don’t forget to treat yourself on occasion. If taking a day off from work is what you need to get through a difficult week, do it. See a movie, go to a museum, or visit a friend or family member. Whatever helps you address your grief in a positive way is a good thing. It is important not to beat yourself up for not feeling as warm about the holiday season as you would like. This is a difficult time and you are allowed to do things that are healthy for you.
~Ben Nystrom, 2008
Photo courtesy of arguera