The holiday season can be an especially challenging time for someone who has dealt with a loss. Below are some suggestions for helping with grief during the holiday season. You may also find one of our free “Making it Through the Holidays” seminars (held in October and November) helpful during this time.
Plan in Advance
In the weeks leading up to the holiday, discuss with friends and family what you would like to do and what situations you think may overwhelm you.
Keep in mind that you probably won’t all agree on a plan, and that some compromises will have to be made. If this is your first holiday since your loved one passed away, acknowledge in advance how difficult it is going to be.
Whatever you plan on this year, you certainly can do something differently next year. For now, all you need to do is concentrate on the next several weeks.
Give Yourself Permission to Cry
We are not a culture that is comfortable with grief, so it is especially difficult to be in mourning during a time of year that is supposed to be festive. Acknowledge that no matter what you do, the loss of your loved one will cause you pain. Crying is perfectly acceptable. Don’t try to keep your emotions inside to spare other family members. Chances are they are thinking of the deceased as well.
Give Yourself Permission to Feel Good
If you have a moment of laughter or a shared joke with someone, don’t feel guilty. Holidays are a time for being with friends and family, and feeling light-hearted in no way means that you are forgetting the deceased
Feel Free to Begin New Traditions
This year won’t be the same. Attempting to keep everything exactly as it was in the past will only serve to enhance the person’s absence. If your loved one always hosted the holiday meal at their home, perhaps this year the family can gather in a restaurant or at someone else’s home. Perhaps you can open presents on Christmas Eve, instead of Christmas morning, or vice-versa.
This is an extremely hectic time of year, and you’ve been through a traumatic experience. You probably won’t have the emotional energy or the physical stamina to do all the shopping, cooking, cleaning, gift-wrapping, socializing, and decorating that you are accustomed to.
Do the minimum that will make you feel good, and don’t be shy about asking for help when you need it. Now is the time to call all those friends/family members who said, “If you need anything call me.”
Watch Your Alcohol Intake
This is a time of year for parties, and it is easy to drink too much during these months, even if you normally drink very little. Alcohol, however, is a depressant, and it is very likely that your mood is very low. In addition, both grief and alcohol have an adverse effect on your immune system, and the combination of the two could make it much easier for you to become physically ill.
Don’t Isolate Yourself—Give Yourself a “Way Out”
One of the aspects of grief that is hard for others to understand is the effort it takes for someone in mourning to socialize. At the same time, it isn’t healthy to stay isolated. During the holidays, as you are invited to parties or religious functions, it is important to keep this in mind.
If you can, drive yourself or carpool with an understanding friend, so you can leave when you are feeling overwhelmed. Let people know in advance that you may “sneak-out” a little early.
If You Have Children, Include Them as Much as Possible
Depending on their age and maturity level, children can be especially upset and anxious during the holidays. They may be hesitant to ask the adults in their life about the deceased, because mentioning that person’s name may bring on tears. It is important to explain that it is OK if adults cry, and that although they are sad now, they won’t always be THIS sad.
It is very important to check in with your children and to ask them which holiday traditions are vital to them. For example, you may feel like you just don’t have the energy to buy a tree and decorate it. However, for your children this may be much more important than decorating the rest of the house.
Be honest about what you feel capable of doing, but consider compromising on some of their requests, as continuing tradition can help renew their sense of hope and optimism.
Find a Way to Memorialize Your Loved One
Feel free to reminisce about past holidays with your loved one. Family and friends may be hesitant to mention your loved one for fear of upsetting you.
As a result, you may feel as if your loved one has been forgotten in the holiday rush. Take some time to remember them in a way that is meaningful to you. You may want to give to a charity in their name, keep a candle burning in their memory, or plant a tree. Whatever feels right for you is fine.