Healthy Grieving: Ways to manage grief during the holidays

Whether the loss was recent or several years ago, dealing with the death of someone loved is challenging at any time, but more so during the holiday season. Holidays can complicate grief for the bereaved by diminishing feelings of joy and happiness, while heightening sadness and depression.
Here are simple ways to better manage grief during the holidays and ease any feelings of dread and apprehension.

#1. Follow established traditions. Even though a family member has died, many families find that adhering to cherished yearly traditions are comforting. This is holiday grief plan A.

#2. Make some changes. Other grievers find it helpful to make some changes. This is holiday grief plan B. For example, one woman, widowed after a 20-year marriage, found it “impossible” to put up the same tree and ornaments she and her husband used. Instead, she purchased a different artificial tree and bought deep blue shiny balls for decoration.

#3. Be flexible. Because grief is unpredictable, it is smart to remain flexible through the holidays. Just because you have always attended an office party or participated in a religious service does not mean you have to do this time around.

#4. Express your needs. Anthony Komaroff, MD, executive editor of the Harvard Health Letter, notes: “People who are grieving may find it hard to participate in all the festivities or may need to let go of unsatisfying traditions. It’s all right to tell people you just aren’t up to it right now or to change plans at the last minute.”

#5. Include memories of the loved one by:

  • Proposing a toast during a holiday meal
  • Lighting a candle in remembrance and pausing for a moment of prayer or meditation
  • Writing about your loved one online and on social media

#6. Ask for help. If there are some things you cannot do or simply do not want to do, then ask others to help you out. In an article titled, Managing Grief And Loss During The Holidays, Joel L. Young, MD, explains, “People can be strange about grief. They often want to help, but don’t know what to do, so they say things like, ‘Let me know if you need anything.’ Don’t ignore these offers! You cannot expect that loved ones will magically intuit what you need. If someone asks what they can do, tell them what you need—but be prepared for a no, since everyone has limits, and those limits don’t mean you are unloved.”

#7. Help someone else. Doing so takes the focus off your own loss and pain. Dr. Komaroff writes, “It may also help to volunteer through a charitable or religious organization. Make a donation to a favorite cause in memory of the person who died.”

#8. Be real. Allow yourself to feel the pains and the pleasures of the holiday. Allow yourself to be emotionally resilient and responsive. Do not let anyone else tell you how you “should” feel.

#9. Take a nap. Even those who are not grieving a loss report that holidays can be exhausting. Pace yourself and rest when often.
In his book, A Decembered Grief, Dr. Harold Ivan Smith writes: “Tired, exhausted people complicate the holidays for others, if not also for themselves. A nap can be a wonderful gift to yourself. It is easy for some grievers, with the long ‘to do’ lists to say, ‘Whose got time to nap?’ The accurate response may be you don’t have time not to nap. Do yourself—and the world—a big favor: take a nap.”

#10. Practice self-compassion. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a bereavement counselor and author of Healing Your Holiday Grief, writes: “Don’t judge yourself or set you expectations too high. Be compassionate with yourself as you encounter painful thoughts and feelings.”

Victor M. Parachin, M. Div., is a bereavement educator and grief counselor.  He is the author of numerous books about grief including The Lord Is My Shepherd: A Psalm For The Grieving and Healing Grief.

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