Coping with Grief and The Holidays
Anyone experiencing grief this time of year can tell you that the holidays are especially hard. They come with expectations of happiness, pleasant gatherings with family and friends, decorations, and special food. Now, through a choice no one made, the holidays are missing someone integral to those celebrations. You may hear varying pieces of advice regarding how to celebrate a holiday after a loss. But the primary idea that I would like to share is that those dealing with grief and the holidays have the power to make choices.
Making choices can be a daunting task. It means confronting your loss and deciding on a course of action. Here are a few choices you can make this holiday season.
Choose to do things the same.
One option is to simply do the same things you’ve done every year. There is comfort to be found in tradition and carrying on. Keep in mind that someone will have to take over the tasks that the person who passed used to do – and that itself can be a trigger for grief reactions like tears, anger, sadness, and others.
Choose to do nothing.
On the other hand, you can also choose to do nothing. You just may not have enough energy to plan, cook/bake, clean, let people know when to be at your home, travel and/or decorate. If this is the plan that you choose, people may tell you that you can’t be alone on a holiday. But yes – you absolutely can be alone if you choose to be. It may not be what you need every year. It may not be what you need for every holiday.
It may just be that you need or want to be alone this year. You may need or want to look at pictures and cry. You may want to watch your favorite holiday movie. You may want to sit in the dark. You may want to stay in bed all day. You may want to walk to your favorite place. You may want to get out of town.
You have the right to do what is best for you. This can get more challenging if you have younger children. Perhaps it would be best to discuss this among the family and make a group decision.
Choose to make new traditions.
You can also choose to change the traditions in some way when facing grief and the holidays. One gentleman told me that he and his family stood around the dining room table at the first major holiday after his wife died. Each person in the family was given an opportunity to share a memory. Then they all toasted his wife. Everything else was kept the same and it worked for him. Some people leave an empty place setting; some people add a picture of the person they lost at that same place setting.
Choose to leave if you need to.
If you decide to go to another person’s home, please think and talk about an “escape plan.” Explain to people that you may need to leave early because it might be too much to handle, or you may just be too tired. There are many common mental and physical reactions during grief, so these reasons are real.
It needs to be said in closing that excessive use of alcohol, food, exercise, drugs (prescription or not) will not be helpful. Also, if suicidal thoughts are present, please seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255.
There is no prescription for how to handle any holiday during grief. Please be safe this year. Seek out help if needed. And please remember this quote that I would like to share from the New Union Prayerbook: “May the beauty of their lives shine for evermore and may my life always bring honor to their memory.”
Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care provides complimentary grief recovery groups in all the communities we serve. Please call 1-888-564-3405 for information on family grief support.
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