This holiday season can be the best of times and can be the most difficult of times. It is often considered one of time with family and those we are in closest relationship with in our lives. For some, those persons have died in recent months or even years, and this holiday season is as much a time of sadness and a reminder of the loss as it is a time of hope and celebration. One of the most helpful ways to move through these difficult days is to listen to yourself and face it with some intention, honoring both yourself and your loved one. I write this entry for anyone who is grieving a loss and struggles with how you will get through these holidays, and for those who know someone who may be going through grief during this time.
Strategies for Coping Through the Holidays In the Midst of Grief *
- Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you feel. Others may have difficulty with the rawness of your emotions. Let that be their problem. It is not your responsibility to protect them from your emotions. Honor your experience. It is a way of honoring your loved one, as well.
- Plan ahead! Call a family meeting to discuss plans for the holiday. It’s ok to leave home if you choose, or do something non-traditional.
- Take time to do the things you want to. It’s ok to say “no” to others if you need or want to in their plans.
- Take care of yourself…eat healthy, plan a budget, drink wisely…
- Find a way to remember your loved one that is meaningful to you and your family. Some may want to purchase gifts for their loved one and give them to a charity that needs them. Perhaps a tree decorated representing your loved ones favorite things. Perhaps filling your loved one’s stocking with favorite memories of him or her. What would be meaningful to you to honor your loved one?
- Find others that can accept you as you are and allow them to assist you, support you.
- Recognize that grief affects everyone differently. Everyone in the family, even extended family, grieves. Each, because of age, personality, relationship to the one who has died, will grieve differently. How can you honor each in their need?
- Consider doing something for others. Sometimes getting out and providing a service to someone in the community or elsewhere that is in need is a good distraction and provides hope in the midst of the sadness.
- Give voice to your soul…allow yourself to ask the hard questions and search for the meaning you yearn for. This meaning is not for the death, but for the life and legacy of the one you remember and love.
- Be gentle with yourself! This is no ordinary time, and grieving is so very difficult, at best. If the death was a sudden and unexpected one, there is a level of trauma that comes with your experience. It is important for you to know you cannot grieve fully unless you acknowledge the trauma you have suffered in the loss.
Recently I had the privilege of being with family members in a workshop that have gone through the loss of a loved one through a vehicular collision. They reminded me of the importance of having folks around that truly understands their traumatic loss and need for acceptance in their pain and journey through the trauma and grief. When death is unexpected, it can take four to seven years to move through the loss (K. J. Doka, 1996). Even then there is that ache inside that never truly leaves, especially if this was your child (of any age) or someone you were especially close to.
Be kind to yourself if you are one of the folks who are in grief during these holidays. If you know of someone who is going through this, let them know that you are thinking of them and their loved one and care about their experience during these days.
*Many of these coping strategies come from:
Miller, J. E., “How Will I Get Through the Holidays?: 12 Ideas for Those Whose Loved One Has Died”, 1996.