The holidays are hectic and stressful for everyone, but for people coping with the loss of a loved one, the strain of the holiday season—a time when family togetherness and traditions are the focus—can seem overwhelming. Their emotional anguish can be especially poignant in that first holiday season after their loved one’s passing.
While no two bereavement journeys are exactly the same, there are healthy ways for people who are grieving to better cope with their loss during the holidays and perhaps even find new meaning and significance in the season.
Give yourself permission to grieve
According to ProMedica Hospice bereavement coordinator Bill Fink, one of the most important things grieving people can do is simply to recognize that the feelings they’re having are natural. “The holidays are filled with so many traditions and memories of times past. It’s perfectly normal to experience a sense of sadness and loss. Don’t ignore that feeling. It’s much better to talk about it and share it with others. Also, don’t be afraid to speak the name of the person who died. Everyone is thinking about him or her anyway. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Hey, we really miss Grandpa’ or ‘It’s not the same this year without Grandma.’”
Know your limits
The grieving process is physically and emotionally draining. It’s also natural and necessary in order to achieve acceptance and eventually restore well-being. While moving through the passages of grieving, it’s normal for the bereft person’s mood and energy level to fluctuate. It’s important to be aware of this and to share with family and friends what you’re realistically able to manage with respect to holiday activities and obligations.
“It’s essential not only for grieving people to express what they need and can reasonably manage, but also for everyone else to listen and be open to what they have to say. It’s okay if they need to change things or say no to certain gatherings or commitments this year,” Fink says.
Don’t hesitate to delegate
If there are certain responsibilities that you usually take on during the holidays—hosting family get-togethers, writing and sending Christmas cards, picking up visiting relatives from the airport, planning and preparing meals, baking cookies, etc.—but you don’t feel you have the energy for them this year, don’t be afraid to ask someone else to lend a hand. Most likely, many of the people around you will be more than happy to step in and ease your burden. Or, you may just realize that some of those self-imposed obligations aren’t really necessary and decide to skip them this holiday season so you can focus your energy on the things that really matter to you.
Re-evaluate holiday traditions
Time-honored traditions promote family togetherness, but they can also evoke emotional pain when they’re closely linked with the memory of a lost loved one. Fink notes that only the grieving person can decide whether or not it’s appropriate to continue those established traditions. “You might feel that it’s best to keep doing things the way you’ve always done them and going to the same places you’ve always gone, or you might decide this would be a good year to start some new traditions. There’s no right answer,” he says.
Keep your loved one’s memory alive
Honoring a deceased loved one’s memory in some unique way might just be the perfect new holiday tradition. For example, the family could light a special candle for the loved one and place it on the dinner table, on the mantel, or in another prominent location; hang a stocking by the fireplace and invite everyone in the family to put in a note that expresses their feelings about the person; or make a donation to a charitable organization in his or her name each holiday season. Or, you could simply set aside a little time for the whole family to look at photographs of their loved one and share memories.
Though it’s natural and necessary for grieving people to seek time alone for reflection and healing, this process should not lead to isolation from family and friends. You need their support—and they very likely need yours. As Fink explains, “It’s normal to want some solitude when you’re grieving, but withdrawing from everyone and staying in isolation is unhealthy.”
Most importantly, people who are struggling with the grieving process should seek out the support of others who understand what they’re going through and have the compassion and expertise to help them heal, move forward, and find new hope. For example, ProMedica Hospice offers several grief groups that bereaved people are encouraged to join. Grieving people can also call ProMedica Hospice’s main office at 419-824-7400 and set up a time to speak one-on-one with a bereavement coordinator.❦