Leslie Sessley, LCSW
As I look out my window, I can already see the seasons changing, the fluctuation of temperature, the brisk nights and even the bright colors of the leaves evolving. These are not only signs of the change in season, but also a reminder that the holidays are fast approaching.
While the holidays may be joyous for many, for others, it is a challenging time that many have trouble coping with. For some, surviving the holiday season is one of the most challenging times of the year.
Why can the holiday season be challenging?
Generally, holidays are filled with family and friends, food and other things that symbolize a time when people come together. The holidays represent a myriad of memories accumulated during a person’s lifetime that for many, provide a point of reference for times directly connected to an emotional period. Many people start off with the memory of good thoughts during the holiday season, but through the impact of life, the loss of a loved one, financial hardship, or a sick family member, what was once a good memory is now one that is associated with pain. For many, holidays force people to realize how just how much life has been impacted and changed by the loss of a loved one.
Grief during the holiday season
What is grief?
“Grief is the reaction to a loss of any kind. A normal expression of a loss.”
Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult things an individual will ever have to deal with, and the affect transcends every barrier that exists within society. This grief is compounded and emotions heightened during certain times throughout life. For some it can be a special song that triggers this intensity, for other riding by a familiar place, for others, the simple onset of the holiday season in which so many memories were shared.
Even at the best of times, the holidays are stressful — but when there’s an additional emotional burden, they’re especially difficult.
If you are reading this and can identify with any part……………….
Here Are some Tips for Coping with Grief during the Holidays
Set realistic expectations for yourself. Remind yourself that this year is different. Decide if you can still handle the responsibilities you’ve had in the past. Examine the tasks and events of celebrating and ask yourself if you want to continue them. Take others up on offers to cook, shop, decorate, etc. Consider shopping by phone, Internet or catalogs this year.
Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Share your plans with family and friends and let them know of any intended changes in your holiday routine. Memories can sometimes be a source of comfort to the bereaved. Share your memories with others of holidays spent with your loved one by telling stories and looking at photo albums.
Try to avoid “canceling” the holiday despite the temptation. It is OK to avoid some circumstances that you don’t feel ready to handle, but don’t isolate yourself. Allow yourself some time for solitude, remembering and grieving, but balance it with planned activities with others.
Allow yourself to feel joy, sadness, anger – allow yourself to grieve. It is important to recognize that every family member has his/her own unique grief experience and may have different needs related to celebrating the holidays. No one way is right or wrong. Experiencing joy and laughter does not mean you have forgotten your loved one.
Draw comfort from doing for others. Consider giving a donation or gift in memory of you loved one. Invite a guest who might otherwise be alone for the holidays. Adopt a needy family during the holiday season.
Take care of yourself. Avoid using alcohol to self-medicate your mood. Try to avoid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Physical exercise is often an antidote for depression. Writing in a journal can be a good outlet for your grief. Buy yourself something frivolous that you always wanted but never allowed yourself to indulge in.
Create a new tradition or ritual that accommodates your current situation. Some people find comfort in the old traditions. Others find them unbearably painful. Discuss with your family the activities you want to include or exclude this year.
Some examples of new rituals and traditions include:
• Announce beforehand that someone different will carve the turkey.
• Create a memory box. You could fill it with photos of your loved one or written memory notes from family members and friends. Young children could include their drawings in the memory box.
• Make a decorative quilt using favorite colors, symbols or images that remind you of the person who died.
• Light a candle in honor of your absent loved one.
• Put a bouquet of flowers on your holiday table in memory of your loved one.
• Visit the cemetery and decorate the memorial site with holiday decorations.
• Have a moment of silence during a holiday toast to honor your loved one.
• Place a commemorative ornament on the Christmas tree.
• Dedicate one of the Chanukah candles in memory of your loved one.
• Write a poem about your loved one and read it during a holiday ritual.
• Play your loved one’s favorite music or favorite game.
• Plan a meal with your loved ones’ favorite foods.
The most important thing to remember is there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season after the death of a loved one, and that the best way to cope with that first holiday season is to plan ahead, get support from others and take it easy.
Be kind to yourself, show yourself some compassion:
Acknowledge, what you are feeling? Take time to attend to it:
A Self- Compassionate Reminder-
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment?
May I give myself the compassion I need?
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