Local experts share the latest information and resources on all things mental health.
Posted: November 16, 2014 by Dannette Muselman
It’s that time of year, the holidays are finally here!
Everywhere you turn holiday spirit is found in parties, foods, media, shopping and gift giving. After all, isn’t this supposed to be the best time of the year, filled with wonder and cheer?
Yet, if you are grieving the loss of a loved one the holidays can feel anything but “merry.” All of the holiday decor, activities, and expectations can feel like glaring reminders of what you don’t have anymore— your loved one. The holidays can bring forth the absence of your loved one more than any other time of the year. It may feel like there is a big hole in your life, and the holidays are another marker of a year gone by without your loved one. As a griever, it is normal to have varying reactions and heartache during the holidays.
Feelings of sadness, loneliness and emptiness are intensified during this time of year. Holidays can bring up bittersweet memories of your loved one and traditions of holidays in the past. It is common to feel immense amounts of worry, anxiety and anticipation about the holidays, and such anticipation can be more difficult than the actual day itself. You may also be reminded of the reality that part of the loss may be with you for the rest of your life.
Despite the sorrow, it is possible to find ways to enjoy the holidays, while at the same time, honoring the painful absence of your loved one. In preparation of the holidays, you may find it helpful to have a plan that includes ideas, needs, lists, and ways to manage the holiday stress. If you plan ahead, you and loved ones may feel better prepared to cope and face the holidays together. It is also helpful to remember that everyone grieves in a different way, just as the relationship between each person and the deceased was unique.
Here are some helpful ideas to help you plan for the holidays:
Be gentle and take time to care for yourself. Focus on your basic needs, such as sleep, regular and healthy meals, exercise, and use of healthy coping skills.
Take life only one day and hour at a time. Do what feels right, nurturing, and good for your mind, body, and soul in the moment. Don’t over extend yourself and try to eliminate unnecessary stress.
Evaluate your priorities and the activities that will be most meaningful to you. Let go of holiday tasks and busyness that are not crucial. Remember to be flexible with plans and to have a “plan b” as needed or depending on how you feel at the moment. It’s okay to decide that a plan doesn’t feel right.
Before shopping, make lists of what to buy or do gift shopping online. Have a plan for what to do if an unanticipated flood of emotion comes up while shopping and out in public.
Ask friends and family members to be understanding and to help you meet your needs. Divide holiday tasks and responsibilities with other family members. Don’t get overwhelmed by duties, decide what you can handle, within reason, and let others know.
Share memories and stories of your loved one. Let others know that you’d welcome hearing their stories and memories of your loved. Allow tears and laughter to be present in these stories.
Remind yourself that your happiness and laughter is not betrayal to your loved one. In fact, it may feel humbling to feel joy in the stories about what they meant to your life.
Discuss with other family members what traditions you want to keep the same, or if it may be helpful to slightly alter the traditions. Decide it if you want to change some of the foods and locations of gatherings. For example, hosting Thanksgiving dinner at different family members home, or altering the menus to make it more manageable to complete.
Remember that what you do this year can be kept or changed in future years. Find a plan that everyone can get behind, and be flexible, changing plans as needed.
Rituals are a symbolic way to remember your loved one. The purpose is to honor the importance of who your loved one was, and to express your feelings and memories of them. Decide what will be most meaningful and therapeutic.
Examples include: burning a special candle; prayers and moments of silence; placing a special photo on a wreath or mantle; cooking/baking one of their favorite foods; placing flowers or wreath at the grave site; listening to the music they enjoyed; giving back and donating your time to charity; and buying toys for a toy drive, etc.
The holidays can be overwhelming for the grieving heart. Know that you are not alone in your grief, and that for other mourners, the holidays are a difficult time. Let yourself cry when you need to, ache and yearn for your loved one, and also find special moments of joy where your loved one’s memory can live on. Decide what activities and traditions are most important to you, and be sure to not overextend yourself. Develop ways to highlight the bitter-sweetness of the holidays and surround yourself with loved ones who can share and offer support in your grief. Take the time to care for yourself, make room for your grief to be present when needed, and to honor and remember your loved one during this holiday season.