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Tips for coping with grief during the holidays

By Leanne Billiau

The holidays can be a busy, overwhelming time for many, but when you are grieving the loss of a loved one, it can be an especially difficult time.  Holidays as well as special days, such as anniversaries and birthdays, can highlight the fatigue and loneliness many grieving people feel.  It is not unusual for feelings of grief to intensify as early as a few weeks prior to a holiday or special day and they can last for up to a few weeks afterward as well.  While this can be disturbing to the griever, it is not a set-back.  It is, in fact, one of the bumps on the journey of grief.

Many grieving people express their wish that they could just skip right over the holiday season, but with all of the advertisements and decorations, it is impossible to forget that the holiday season is upon us.  However, if you spend some time thinking about and planning for how you will cope, you just may find that it is easier to get through than you may anticipate.

The following are some tips on how to get through the holiday season while you are grieving the loss of a loved one.

  1. Adjust Expectations – Grief often makes one feel fatigued, so be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to NOT do certain things this year.  If hosting or even contributing to the Thanksgiving meal is overwhelming, tell your family and ask if you can just bring rolls or flowers. If you don’t have the energy to purchase individual gifts this year, you could give loved ones a card instead with a heartfelt message, give everyone on your list a book that you love, or give those that were close to your loved one something special that belonged to him/her.
  2. Adapt Traditions – If there is something you always do at the holidays that seems too painful this year, try to adapt it to make it more comfortable.  For instance, if your loved one always lit the menorah, your family could take turns this year or you could get an electric or wall hung menorah to use instead.
  3. Do What Feels Right for You – There may be things you simply can not face this year and you need to listen to and follow what feels right for you.  Be careful not to isolate yourself, however, because that can make you feel worse in the long run.  So try to accept at least the most special invitations because maintaining connections is important.  You can always leave early if it becomes too difficult.
  4. Talk About Your Loved One – If you try to “put on a happy face” and not mention your loved one for fear of bringing sadness to a happy time, you may find yourself feeling alone in your pain.  If you are honest about how you feel, it gives others permission as well to express the sadness they may be feeling.  You can open up a conversation about your loved one by sharing memories, making a toast in their honor, or even bringing a bouquet of their favorite flowers to the table.
  5. Tell Others What You Need – Those around you may get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays and lose sight of what you may be going through.  They will not know what you need unless you tell them and will probably be very happy to help you if they do know.  So don’t hesitate to ask for help decorating, shopping, or just ask for some time and a listening ear if that is what would be most helpful.
  6. Accept Your Grief and Your Joy – You most likely will have moments of sadness as you face the holidays without your loved one.  You may also have moments of joy, so be open to those and allow yourself to enjoy the things you can without judgment or guilt.  It is not disrespectful to your loved one.  They almost certainly would want you to be happy.

“The holiest of all holidays are those

Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;

The secret anniversaries of the heart.”

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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