Once a source of joy and celebration, the holidays often present a special challenge for those who are grieving. While the anticipation of the holidays is often harder than the day itself, there are a number of things that people who are grieving can do to reduce their angst during the season. Drawing on its experience of helping people through the grief process, Treasure Health offers these suggestions for coping with grief during the holidays:
Eat and Sleep
Your health and well-being depends on proper eating and sound sleep. When facing difficulties, these are usually the first routines to go. Be sure to make eating and sleeping your top priorities. Only when you are rested and nourished should you consider taking on additional tasks. If appetite and sleep difficulties persist, seek medical consultation.
Trust Your Wisdom
Each of us has the capacity to overcome difficulties and within us is the knowledge of how to do so. Each person’s journey through grief and the holidays will be as unique as the loving relationship they mourn. Listen to the inner guidance that tells you what you need, what you can do, and what you are not ready to attempt.
Be Honest and Gentle
Difficult emotions are part of the grief process, but are often unwelcome at holiday celebrations. Now more than ever, you may try to avoid or hide your feelings. However, the best way to cope with difficult emotions is to acknowledge them and greet them with gentle kindness. Be honest with yourself and others about how and what you are feeling. Let friends and family know it is normal for you to feel sad, and that it is okay if you cry. Go easy on yourself and don’t push yourself too hard.
Learning about the grief process is one of the most important things you can do to help yourself. If you know what to expect, you will be better prepared to deal with a loss.
Reflect on Rituals and Traditions
Traditions and rituals exist at the core of every society to transmit values and beliefs from one generation to the next, connecting the past to the present. When they fit, they give life meaning and comfort. When they don’t, they leave us feeling lost and distressed. In difficult times, people tend to engage in all-or-nothing thinking. After a loss, there is a tendency either to continue holiday traditions without change or to impose a moratorium on them. But these valiant efforts to keep going or to shut the world out don’t stop the pain of loss. This year, instead of taking an all-or-nothing approach, take time to reflect on your thoughts and feelings about the holidays and acknowledge the presence of your loss. To help bridge the gap between your grief and the holidays, identify your thoughts and ideas about the upcoming season:
- What holiday traditions do you observe and what do they mean to you?
- What symbols represent the occasion?
- What feelings do these symbols inspire in you?
- At the most basic level, what is the meaning of this holiday for you?
Think about the plans you make and the feelings you have. What is the meaning behind it? How is that meaning important to you now? Give yourself permission to discontinue activities that don’t fit anymore.
Honor Loved Ones This Season
During the holidays, many people find it helpful to honor or remember loved ones who are no longer here. Some ideas include:
- Talk openly and honestly about the loved one who is not present. What are your favorite memories of holidays spent together? What special contribution did he or she bring to festivities? How might you continue this tradition?
- Create a space for holding thoughts about your loved one. Write your thoughts down. Select something symbolic to hold these notes. You might hang a stocking or use their favorite object. Select a time to read and reminisce over the notes.
- Make your loved one’s favorite holiday food. Talk about how this became a holiday tradition.
- Purchase a live tree or plant. Lovingly decorate it, plant it and nurture it in the coming years.
- Continue the legacy of the love you shared by exchanging gifts. Purchase a gift FOR your loved one and donate it to someone in his or her name. Purchase a gift FROM your loved one that will comfort and nurture you during your season of loss.
- Say a prayer, light a candle or place a picture of your loved one in a special place to acknowledge their continued presence on this day.
Recognizing, expressing, and accepting a loss is fundamental to the healing process. This is especially so during the holidays. Whether you incorporate one or more of these suggestions into your plans this season, remember to care for yourself each and every day. That alone will go a long way to healing as you find comfort in fond memories and renewed meaning in the season.