By Amanda Rowett, MA, LMHCA, Seattle Christian Counseling
The holidays are expected to be a time of celebration and joy, but for those who have suffered a loss of a loved one, the holidays can be a cold reminder that their loved one is gone. The holiday season can seem like unforeseen emotional land mines that trigger new grief reactions. Many people may not expect the intense emotions and may feel there is something wrong with them. Know that intense grief feelings and thoughts are normal during special events, especially during holidays. Here are some helpful coping strategies to help you during the holiday season:
1.) Have realistic expectations for yourself. Remember that everyone grieves at their own pace and healing takes time.
2.) Be honest with yourself and accept your feelings. Because everyone else is feeling full of excitement and merriment, the bereaved may feel pressure to appear happy. It’s important to allow yourself to feel the pain and acknowledge the difficulty of the event. It’s ok to be angry, cry, or be depressed. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Remember the pain of your grief is a sign of your loving investment you made in that relationship.
3.) Be kind to yourself. In the midst of the busyness of the holidays decide to commit to nurture yourself. Because grieving consumes a lot of our emotional energy, you need to replenish yourself. What feels healing to you? Here are a few suggestions: go for a walk, take a hot bath, receive spiritual support and prayer, get a massage, listen to music, draw or paint, take a nap, or spend time with a friend on a coffee date.
4.) Reexamine what your priorities will be this season. Will you be sending Christmas cards, baking cookies, decorating, putting up a tree, cooking family meals? GriefNet.org suggests to ask yourself can these tasks be shared? And will these activities be enjoyable and helpful to you this year? Think of other ways to celebrate like going out to dinner instead of cooking, if these seasonal tasks seem to tiring, overwhelming, or painful.
5.) Listen to your limitations and know what you would like to participate in and what events you might decline. Many bereaved feel obligated to participate in social gatherings and holiday activities. Whatever you choose this year to do, know that you can decide to manage celebrating differently next year. The Hospice Foundation of American Grief Campaign does say to be careful not to isolate yourself completely and to maintain some social support during the holidays.
6.) With the many changes you have endured, consider which holiday traditions are important and meaningful to you to preserve. Familiar traditions can provide comfort and security.
7.) Anticipate what may trigger grief reactions and prepare a plan in advance. Think about what part of the holidays may be most difficult for you and increase your support system. Call a trusted friend, plan a visit with a family member or join a grief support group. Think about increasing your therapy appointments with your counselor to process your grief.
8.)Find a way to acknowledge your loved one who has died. Rituals can help us remember our loved one and allow us to incorporate them into the holiday season. Rituals can also bring comfort and help you feel a sense of control. Here are some suggestions on how you can remember and honor your loved one: buy or make an ornament, plant a special tree or flower, make a toast during dinner, visit the cemetery, donate money to a charity or cause, light a candle, reminisce with photo albums, set a place setting at the dinner table in honor of your loved one.
9.) Recognize that the holidays will be different. The Hospice Foundation of American Grief Campaign states “thinking the holiday will be the same sets yourself up for disappointment.” Consider creating new holiday traditions that could bring some renewal and inspiration.
10.) Voice your needs. It is often difficult for others to watch their loved one struggle through grief. Let others help you and carry some of the burdens of tasks this year. Remember you are only human and it’s ok to ask for help.
11.) It’s ok to enjoy yourself. Many people feel guilty for celebrating after a death. GriefNet.org states that “laughter and joy are not disrespectful.” Give yourself and your family members permission to celebrate and take pleasure in the holidays.
If you are having trouble working through these suggestions or would like help coping with a loss, Christian counseling is a positive place to start. Counseling provides a safe place to work through your feelings of grief, to see how this loss has impacted your life, and to help you move forward.
Images cc: Holiday Blues by Paige Holden and tree photo by Sue Ann Jaffaraian