Grief: Coping with Grief Over the Holidays
Coping with grief is never easy, but grieving over the holidays can add even more stress.
For many people, celebrating the holidays means that you gather around a large table with family and friends. You may exchange gifts, eat lots of food, play some games, watch football, and enjoy one another’s company. But what if this year, you have one less person at the table – someone you loved so dearly but lost? The holidays can be a difficult time to spend without your loved one. On top of the stress that the holidays can bring, you may even dread what is supposed to be a celebration because of your loss. Your loved one’s absence may be particularly more evident during this time of year because perhaps you and your loved one shared special traditions on these holidays such as decorating cookies or putting up decorations. Or maybe you always used to have the celebrations take place at their house and feel like, without this person, the holidays are not the same. Or maybe your loved one passed away near the holiday season, so you are grieving the anniversary of their death each and every year.
The holidays are often very difficult for those of you who are grieving, and that is perfectly okay. You are allowed to miss your loved one everyday including the holidays. While you are spending time missing and remembering your loved one, you may want to use one of the following ideas to help you cope with your loss during the holidays and to celebrate the life of your loved one.
Do Something in Honor of Your Loved One this Holiday Season
The holidays are a time when organizations ask for help so they can provide the less fortunate with meals or gifts. This year, consider making a donation or volunteering at an organization that was special to your loved one. In this way, you and your family can honor your loved one and acknowledge that while this person is no longer with you, they left a legacy.
Try Some of Your Loved One’s Traditions Yourself
Another way to honor your loved one is to try and replicate some of the traditions that your loved one cherished. You could attempt to bake grandma’s homemade pumpkin pie this year or lead the family in “what I’m thankful for” just like your dad used to. But only try incorporating these traditions if you are confident they won’t add stress to the holidays. If you do feel like adding more to your plate is not possible, there is no pressure. When you and your family are grieving a loss, you have to be flexible with these traditions. Consider which traditions are absolutely necessary and which ones you can let go this year.
Participate in Religious Traditions
For some faiths at this time of year it is customary to attend a service. Often at these services, you may have an opportunity to remember those who have passed on through prayer or lighting a candle. Whatever your faith or tradition, you can carry that person with you and provide yourself with a space in which to remember them.
Reminisce about Your Loved One
Talking about your loved one with family can provide some healing and help you dwell on some of the good times you enjoyed together. Tell stories and look through pictures. Remember the special days that you spent together, and try to open up with family and friends. It is likely that not speaking about the absence of your loved one will only cause increased tension and stress. It is okay if you and others get emotional and feel the pain of missing the one you love. Sometimes sharing the common experience when the family is together can help you all find a little healing.
Have a “Low Key” Holiday
This year, traditions may feel empty without your loved one by your side. Maybe this is the year you decide to stay home with just your immediate family to celebrate, make a small meal, and spend some quality time together. Often, we put too much stress on making sure the holiday is just right and forget the basics of taking care of ourselves. This year, you could allow yourself a pass to stay home and do something different. When you are grieving, it can help to remove yourself from more than you can handle.
Take a Vacation
Perhaps you have not had a vacation in years because you have been caring for a sick loved one or just because you have not found the time. This year, you may find that a vacation will give you time to remove yourself from the annual traditional holiday with family and friends and hopefully will provide you with some rest. And perhaps physically getting away can also help you heal.
Take Care of Yourself
The holidays are often a time when people over-spend, over-eat, over-drink and under-exercise and under-sleep. If you are grieving, you are expending a lot of energy, and all of these negative consequences of the holidays can add up to make you feel sadder and possibly depressed. Try to continue with the basics of caring for yourself. Also, if you feel like you want to be alone – take some time and do that, but be careful not to completely isolate yourself. Often family and friends want to be there for you when you are going through a difficult time, so allowing them to do that can bring some healing for you and your family.
As each situation is very different, consider adapting one or more of these ideas to fit your specific situation. There is no right way or wrong way to do things. This year, the most important thing is to give yourself some grace and be kind to others, as they may be grieving as well. You can get through this and possibly use this holiday season to gain some healing.
For more on grief and other topics, visit eFuneral’s Resource Center.
This article was written for eFuneral's Online Resource Center by Chelsea Gumucio, eFuneral’s Liaison Social Worker. Chelsea is a State of Ohio-Licensed Independent Social Worker with experience working as an advocate, educator, and counselor. She previously served as an Alternative Home Care Hospice Social Worker in Cleveland, Ohio. Those thinking about end-of-life should visit eFuneral for help researching, planning, and arranging a wide variety of funeral-related services.