Grieving During the Holidays: Strategies for Coping

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Christmas was my husband’s absolute favorite time of the year. He loved the hustle and bustle of preparing. The smell of fresh paint, the excitement of decorating and the joy of shopping in preparation for Christmas with our extended family made him so happy. When he passed 7 years ago, I no longer wanted to do Christmas as we did in previous years; the pain of loss was just too great during what is to be a festive occasion.

The first Christmas following his passing, we traveled instead of celebrating at home because I thought it would be easier to be away than to be present in our home with all the memories flooding our minds. In hindsight, I don’t believe traveling made it easier. Dealing with the loss of loved ones is difficult during Christmas, especially in the first few years.

As time progressed, we grew to accept that he is no longer here and we think of him and all the beautiful memories created together. We laugh, we pause in silent reflection, we sigh and sometimes, we still shed tears. As Vicki Harrison said, “Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” Allow yourself to feel those varying emotions; it is a natural occurrence for any type of loss.

If you recently lost a loved one, friend or any other type of loss here are some coping strategies I found useful from Psychologist, Dr. Tali Berliner. You can use them to help you navigate this festive period:

1. Set Boundaries This Festive Period

You decide what you will and won’t participate in; whatever feels right for you, that is what you should do. You may experience pressure from loved ones and friends to attend holiday parties, family gatherings and community events – be sure to check in with your wants and needs to identify your readiness. What may be helpful is committing to fun activities while reminding yourself that you get to decide how long you stay; it doesn’t have to be the entire event. It is also perfectly fine to opt-out altogether; the choice is yours alone. Finding a balance between engaging and not pushing yourself is important.

2. Be Intune with Your Grief Emotions

Grief can often be magnified during holiday seasons; your emotions do not take a back seat because it’s a holiday. Also, allow yourself to acknowledge your feelings, they are valid; don’t avoid or suppress them. It is not unusual to experience both negative and positive feelings during the holidays while grieving and that is OK. Give yourself Grace, extend kindness to yourself and know that all those feelings can co-exists. You can both miss a person you’ve lost and enjoy the holiday at the same time. You may feel tempted to numb the pain by depending on alcohol, drugs or other unhealthy substances. Instead anticipating the difficult emotions and preparing ahead of time will be a healthy way of preventing negative consequences from occurring.

3. Decide Who Will Fill Holiday Roles Ahead of Time

Each family has traditions and there are some things that specific relatives may have always been responsible for. For example, maybe Mom always decorated the tree, decide early on who will fulfill that responsibility so that you do not find yourself overwhelmed.

4. Honoring Old Traditions & Creating New Traditions

It may be helpful to continue old traditions as a means of honoring the memory of your loved one as well as it might be too painful to continue. There is no right or wrong approach here. Decide what is best for your circumstances and either continue traditions that seem right for you or create a new way of celebrating this season. Remember, creating new memories won’t erase the old ones; do what’s best for you.

5. Determine Grief Coping Techniques Ahead of Time

It is imperative that you think ahead and plan your grief coping skills prior to the holiday season beginning. Grief can hit you unexpectedly and it is useful to know how you will cope with varying scenarios at home or in social settings. Some ways you can cope are deep breathing, taking a walk, journaling, listening to music, practicing yoga, and saying positive affirmations.

6. Volunteer or Give to a Favorite Charity

Helping others lift our moods and alleviates sadness as it brings joy to others who need it. Maybe choosing a charity that is related to an illness your loved one passed from or a cause that was important to them would be a good choice. Alternatively, choosing to give to a cause dear to you is equally helpful.

7. Seek Help When Struggling with Grief

Determining when you need the support of friends, coworkers and relatives is important. Everyone should have a tribe of people around to help during difficult times. In fact, most persons in your immediate circle welcome the opportunity to assist, so don’t be afraid to say you need help. Grief is difficult and it is completely normal and can be beneficial if you seek professional help by seeing a therapist or psychologist.

In conclusion, the holiday season isn’t always all merry and bright. It is quite normal to feel apprehensive about it, you are not alone in experiencing these feelings. Allow yourself to feel all the varying emotions that come with this season. Be present with your loved ones and friends but also, let them know when it is too much or you’ve had enough socializing; they will understand and extend grace to you. You should also give yourself, time, space and grace as you navigate these experiences. Remember, there are no right or wrong ways to approach the holiday season following loss. Take it one event and one emotion at a time.


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