No matter what your age, who has died, or the cause of death, the holidays can be a very difficult time to cope with the absence of a loved one. Customary holiday routines may have ended, gift-giving may be difficult and family holiday songs may be difficult to sing. You may ask yourself: What is happening to me? Can I possibly survive this? Do I even want to? How long will these feelings last? Are these feelings normal? During the holidays you may even ask: Should I ignore the holidays this year? Should I celebrate and act as if everything is normal? There are no right or wrong answers.
Here are 12 suggestions to help you cope with your grief during the holiday season:
1. Accept that you will most likely feel more pain.
When facing the holidays without the one you have been so close to, you may wonder how you will make it through. It is very normal to want to skip the holidays altogether. It may help to recognize that the fear of what the holidays will be like is often worse than what they turn out to be. Although you will probably feel increased pain, decide in advance that it does not have to be unbearable.
2. Feel whatever it is you feel.
Some people may try to hurry you through your grief, and others may try to constantly cheer you up. There are also some friends who may give you advice on how you should and shouldn’t feel. Whether you are feeling sad, happy, depressed, anxious, fearful, angry, guilty or apathetic, be willing to acknowledge and accept your own feelings and express them honestly.
3. Express your emotions.
Everyone reacts differently in expressing their grief. The secret is to be yourself. Common ways to express grief are through tears, talking about your feelings, or finding a creative way to express feelings through art, music, hobbies, or journal writing. Whatever method you choose, find a way to express your feelings that will put you on the path to healing.
4. Plan ahead.
Planning your day before it arrives will help prepare you for dealing with situations that may be difficult. Think about how you will cope with tasks that might cause you to be more emotional. Ask others to help you complete responsibilities that your loved one used to do. Do not feel like you have to participate in activities that may be too overwhelming.
5. Take charge where you can.
The loss you have experienced may have brought many changes that are beyond your control. You may want to re-evaluate past traditions and decide which ones are important to keep and which ones you can let go of or change. It may be easier to dine at a restaurant rather than at home. You may want to change the time of day you celebrate. You may want to decorate differently (or not at all). Take charge in little ways that are not too difficult.
6. Turn to others for support.
The holidays are a difficult time to be alone. You can benefit greatly from being with people who care. Let others know how they can help you, and allow people who are offering assistance to provide help.
7. Be gentle with yourself.
Realize that you will have “good” and “bad” days, especially during holiday seasons. Give yourself time to rest and set aside time to do things that help you such as reading, engaging in a hobby you enjoy, or taking a long walk. Set easy, attainable goals and then reward yourself.
8. Remember to remember.
You may seek comfort by keeping close to you a favorite belonging of your loved one such as a piece of jewelry, favorite pen or photograph. Some people create a photo album or a small remembrance in the home. You may want to remember your loved one in a quieter way such as a prayer, or the lighting of a candle during the holidays. If you feel you are not ready to remember, don’t force yourself. You will know when you are ready.
9. Search out and count your blessings.
At this time of year, people often focus on spiritual things and reflect on blessings that have occurred throughout the year. This is often difficult as you may be finding yourself angry with God or having doubts that you have never experienced before. These feelings are normal. Don’t be afraid to cry and don’t be afraid to laugh. It may seem impossible to find joy and peace, especially during the holidays; however, having a good time does not mean that you have forgotten your loved one or that you love them any less.
10. Do something for others.
During the grieving process, it is only natural to concentrate on yourself and how things are affecting you. If your grief is overwhelming, you do not have to allow it to control you. It is often very helpful to reach out and help others. By reaching out, you will be given the opportunity to feel needed, appreciated and valued.
11. Start new rituals or customs.
Beginning a new tradition or ritual that is meaningful and helps you to remember your loved one in a special way can be very helpful during the holidays. Some suggestions might include lighting a candle in memory of your loved one, purchasing or making a special ornament to hang on the tree, visiting friends or relatives on the holiday instead of hosting the holiday event, going away for a vacation with a group of friends, volunteering at a soup kitchen or delivering holiday meals to homebound patients, providing help to a needy family or donating a gift or money in memory of your loved one.
12. Have hope for the future.
You may find yourself wondering if the pain will ever go away or if you will ever feel better. You may also be tired of feeling lonely, depressed, guilty, and/or angry. The good news is that almost everyone who experiences the loss of a loved one regains an interest in life and develops ways of coping and moving forward. Holidays and “special days” will often be the most difficult time to get through; however, you will find that these special days will become less difficult and that, with time and patience and by working through your grief, you will gradually enjoy life again.