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—is magnified even more. Their emotional anguish can be particularly poignant if the loss actually occurred during or close to the holiday season.
While every bereavement experience is unique, the following suggestions from Danielle Zimmerman, LSW, Bereavement Coordinator for Ashanti Hospice and Palliative Care, might serve as guideposts on this challenging emotional journey—and, perhaps, help the grieving find new meaning and significance in the holidays:
Know and define 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. Zimmerman explains, “While moving through the passages of grieving, it’s normal for your 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.”
Re-evaluate holiday traditions
Time-honored traditions are an important element of holiday togetherness, but they can also evoke considerable emotional pain when they’re closely linked with a lost loved one. Only you can decide whether you’re comfortable continuing established traditions or not. You might feel that it’s important to preserve them for the sake of continuity. Or, perhaps, you think this would be a good year to break with the past and create some altogether new family traditions. Of course, there’s also the middle-ground approach of making some changes to the way you celebrate the holidays while maintaining some of your most cherished traditions.
Keep your loved one’s memory alive
One idea for a new family tradition is to commemorate your lost loved one in some meaningful way during your holiday celebration. “For example, you could light a special candle and place it on the dinner table, on the mantel, or in another prominent location; hang a special ornament on the Christmas tree; hang a stocking by the fireplace and invite everyone in the family to put in a note that expresses their feelings about your loved one; or make a donation to a charitable organization in your loved one’s name each holiday season. Or, you could simply set aside a little time for the whole family to look at photographs of your loved one and share their memories,” Zimmerman suggests.
Taking time to reflect and heal in solitude is perfectly acceptable, but it’s important to avoid isolating yourself from family and friends. You need them—and they very likely need you—during this difficult time. “We’ve found that one of the many benefits of living in a Sunset community is that you have a built-in support system in the other residents, many of whom have experienced bereavement firsthand and can help you through the grieving process,” says Zimmerman.
Don’t be afraid to delegate
If you’re daunted by some of the responsibilities 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.—don’t be afraid to ask someone else to lend a hand this holiday season. Most likely, many of the people around you will be more than happy to step in and ease your burden. Or, perhaps the best course of action might be to set aside some of these obligations this holiday season so you can focus your energy on the things that really matter to you.
Shift your focus onto others
One of the more empowering steps bereaved people can take, particularly during the holiday season, is to shift their focus from their own grief to others in need. Nursing homes, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, hospitals, and other facilities are always in need of volunteers who are willing to donate their time helping others.
Most importantly, seek out the support of others who understand exactly what you’re going through. Local hospices, such as Ashanti Hospice and Palliative Care, and other community organizations commonly offer support groups, workshops, and other services to help people bereft of a loved one explore their grief and find hope and understanding in a comfortable, supportive environment.
For more information on Ashanti Hospice and Palliative Care or Sunset Retirement Communities, please visit www.sunset-communities.org or call: Ashanti Hospice and Palliative Care at 419-724-1047; Fieldstone Villas at Sunset Village at 419-386-2686; Sunset House at 419-536-4645; Sunset Village at 419-724-1200; or The Woodlands at 419-724-1220. ❦