Coping With Grief And The Holidays

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The holidays present their own set of challenges for someone who is grieving. Being surrounded by parties and holiday cheer can magnify the mourner's feelings of loss and hopelessness when coping with grief and the holidays.

The traditions can be especially hard because the person who once shared them is gone. Their absence is deeply felt as you look around the table. There is either someone else sitting in their place, or worse - an empty chair.

You may feel pulled in two opposite directions. Torn between wanting to be happy and enjoy the holiday, but also despair and loneliness. While everyone's grief journey is unique, most people are glad they attended holiday events. You may not want to leave your room, much less your home, but getting out among those who love you can help.

The first year of milestones can be the most challenging. Don't push yourself to do too much too soon. You don't have to replicate every facet of your usual dinner, for example. Do what you can and by all means, accept help! Not every piece of decoration needs to be used every year. The best you can do is the best you can do.

The day will pass, whether you attend every party or just one. You will reach January whether you send out 100 cards or none. Be kind to yourself and know you are strong. You may not feel that way right now, but you will look back and be amazed at how you have survived this terrible pain and come through intact. Different, sure. Forever changed? Absolutely. But you have survived, and that's worth celebrating.

There is no magic formula for getting through the holidays when you are grieving; however, below are a few helpful suggestions.

  • Be open to new traditions. Going through the motions of old traditions may be too much to take. It's okay to eliminate some traditions - changing your routine (even just a little bit) could be helpful.
  • Acknowledge your loss. Pretending you are okay will do more harm than good and it's likely the people around you are also mourning. Talking about your grief helps you to move through it.
  • Find a balance. Trying to get through the holidays alone can only intensify your loss. Force yourself to be with the people who love you. There may be times where you want to be alone and that's okay too.
  • It's okay to cry. Crying is part of grieving and trying to hold it back will do more harm than good. Oftentimes, this reaction can scare your friends and family and you need them now more than ever! Remind them crying is part of the grieving process.
  • Let friends and family help. Tell them how they can help you - let them run errands, help with the decorating, baking and shopping. It may feel like you are imposing, but if they are offering to help, letting them is helping them too. While they can't make the grief go away, letting them help makes them feel useful.

Children and grief during the holidays

Looking forward to the holiday season is a job for children of all ages, but when a child is grieving, the holidays can be especially difficult. Below are some strategies for helping children with their grief during the holidays.

  • Invite them to talk about the person who has died. Oftentimes children will bury their feelings around the holidays to protect the people they love. Sharing a holiday memory could give them the permission they are looking for. Let them know it's hard for everyone and being sad is okay.
  • Mix new traditions in with the old ones. Is there a new tradition you can try to incorporate into the holidays? Can you volunteer to help others? It can be something as simple as baking cookies for an elderly neighbor or visiting a local animal shelter. Ask the child for suggestions on what new traditions they would like to add to the holidays.
  • Look for local support groups for children. Most groups with a focus on child grief can provide additional suggestions and resources and oftentimes offer additional support around the holidays. Click here to find support.

Many people are not aware that their community hospice is a valuable resource that can help people who are struggling with grief and loss.

More information about grief or hospice is available from NHPCO's Caring Connections.

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