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How do you handle grief during the holidays?

Published in Grief & Bereavement Services, For the Health of It Author: Elizabeth Hoover, MSW, LGSW

The holidays can be one of the hardest times for those grieving the loss of a loved one. What once was very comforting, now becomes new again or even overwhelming. With so many family traditions, parties and commitments, many people in grief often time dread the thought of the holidays without their loved ones.

I remember working with a woman who recently lost her husband. When talking about the holidays, her eyes filled with tears as she replied “I just don’t know how I can do Christmas. I tried going over to my daughter’s for Thanksgiving and I ended up locking myself in the bathroom and crying for an hour. My family thought I was crazy.” This situation is all too common for people who are facing the holidays after the loss of a loved one.

So, what can we do? Many experts offer wonderful suggestions that I have used for many years. Here are the tips I find most helpful ─ both professionally and personally.

  1. Give yourself enough “room.” Allow yourself to fill your schedule with commitments that mean the most to you and feel the easiest to attend. This may include avoiding certain shopping centers, get togethers or activities that may be too overwhelming at this point in time. Remember, it is OK to say “No, thank you” to invitations.
  2. Allow yourself the ability to be flexible. It is important to do things in the holiday season that help you along the grief process. This may mean you only send out 10 Christmas cards instead of your usual 150. Instead of cooking a huge Thanksgiving meal, order pizza and enjoy your family without the stress of cooking. Remember, it is the moments that count ─ not the turkey on the table.
  3. Allow time for self care. In the holiday rush, we often forget to sit back and nurture our own being, including our physical self. Listen to your favorite song or take a long bath. Everyone is different ─ make sure to find what helps you the most. Most importantly, make time to do it.
  4. Do something in the community that lifts your spirits. It is humbling yet gratifying to help others. It is a good reminder that we aren’t alone in our struggles. It helps us keep perspective that the holidays can be challenging for many.
  5. Find a way for you and/or your family to include the loved one’s memory in the festivities. Fill your loved one’s stocking with cat toys or dog treats to share with the family pet on Christmas morning. Or visit your loved one’s favorite coffee shop and “pay it forward.” Or buy a small bouquet of balloons in your loved one’s favorite color and leave it in a public spot for a stranger to find.