Holidays!" is a greeting we hear often at
this time of year - but if you're mourning the
loss of a loved one, the holiday season may be
anything but happy for you. Perhaps there is no
time of the year when we are more aware of the
empty space our loved one has left behind than
during the busy holiday season.
Holidays can create feelings
of dread and anxiety in those of us who are bereaved.
The clichéd images of family togetherness
and the often unrealistic expectations of a season
filled with picture-perfect, joyful gatherings
can cause tremendous stress for those who are
not grieving - let alone for those in the midst
of the painful, isolating experience of loss.
In our culture and in our mass media, the pressure
to produce warm and wonderful holiday memories
for and with our families is enormous. But the
reality is that, when we're mourning the loss
of a loved one, we may not have the energy we
ordinarily do. When we're surrounded by nostalgia
and traditions, even the happiest memories can
hurt. When we're in the midst of pain, and the
rest of the world is in the mood to give thanks
and celebrate, we need to find ways to manage
our pain and get through the season with a minimum
How does one celebrate the holidays when a loved
one is so sorely missed? Creating new rituals
and new traditions that may pay tribute to the
memory of the deceased is one way to survive -
and perhaps even embrace - the holidays when a
loved one has died.
Suggestions for Coping with Grief During
Have a family meeting.
List all the things you ordinarily do for the
holidays (sending greeting cards, decorating the
house, stringing outdoor lights, putting up a
tree, holiday baking, entertaining business associates,
buying something special to wear, going to parties,
visiting friends, exchanging gifts, preparing
a big meal, etc.) Decide together what's important
to each of you, what you want to do this year,
what you can let go of, and what you can do differently.
For each task on the list, ask yourself these
Would the holidays be the holidays without
doing this? Is this something I really want to
do? Do I do it freely, or out of habit or tradition?
Is it a one-person job, or can it be a group effort?
Who's responsible for getting it done? Do I really
like doing it?
Do some things differently this
year. Trying to recreate the past
may remind you all the more that your loved one
is missing. This year, try celebrating the holidays
in a totally different way. Nothing is the same
as it used to be anyway. Go to a restaurant. Visit
relatives or friends. Travel somewhere you've
never gone before. If you decide to put up a tree,
put it in a different location and make or buy
different decorations for it. Hang a stocking
in your loved one's memory, and ask each family
member to express their thoughts and feelings
by writing a note to, from or about your loved
one, and place the notes in that special stocking
for everyone to read. Buy a poinsettia for your
home as a living memorial to your loved one for
the holiday season. Find and read some of the
many helpful articles online, written specifically
to help those who are grieving get through the
holidays; you'll find links to many of them on
my Web site's Handling the Holidays.
Do other things more simply.
You don't have to discard all your old traditions
forevermore, but you can choose to observe the
holidays on a smaller scale this year.
Take good care of yourself.
Build time in your day to relax, even if you're
having trouble sleeping. Eat nourishing, healthy
meals, and if you've lost your appetite, eat smaller
portions more frequently throughout the day. (Sweet,
sugary foods are everywhere, from Halloween until
Easter, but too much sugar will deplete what little
energy you have.) Get some daily exercise, even
if it's just a walk around the block. Avoid drinking
alcohol, which intensifies depression and disrupts
Just do it. We all
know that we ought to think positively, eat right,
exercise more and get enough rest - but grief
by its very nature robs us of the energy we need
to do all those good and healthy things. Accept
that in spite of what we know, it's often very
hard to do what's good for us-then do it anyway.
Don't wait until you feel like doing it.
Pay attention to yourself.
Notice what you're feeling and what it is you
need. Feelings demand expression, and when we
acknowledge them and let them out, they go away.
Feelings that are "stuffed" don't go
anywhere; they just fester and get worse. If you
need help from others, don't expect them to read
your mind. It's okay to ask for what you need.
Besides, doing a favor for you during the holidays
may make them feel better, too. Be patient and
gentle with yourself, and with others as well.
Expect to feel some pain.
Plan on feeling sad at certain moments throughout
the season, and let the feelings come. Experience
the pain and tears, deal with them, then let them
go. Have faith that you'll get through this and
that you will survive.
Seek support from others.
Grieving is hard work, and it shouldn't be done
alone. You need to share your experience with
someone who understands and accepts the pain of
your loss. If your spouse, relative or friend
cannot be the source of that support, you can
find it elsewhere. Many hospices offer special
workshops in the months of November and December
to help survivors get through the holiday season.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
maintains a database of hospices for each state
in the United States. To search for a hospice
in your own community, go to Find a Hospice Program.
Give something of yourself to others.
As alone as you may feel in your grief, one of
the most healing things you can do for yourself
is to be with other people, especially during
the holidays. Caring for and giving to others
will nourish and sustain you, and help you to
feel better about yourself. If you can bring yourself
to do so, visit someone in a nursing home or hospice,
or volunteer your time at your church or synagogue,
or at the local humane society or animal shelter.
Do whatever you can, and let it be enough.
Copyright © 2003 – 2010 by Marty
Tousley, CNS-BC, FT. All rights reserved. www.selfhealingexpressions.com
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