The Psych Central Report

Grieving Through the Holidays

by SS8282
December 2005

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The loss of a loved one (friend or family) is difficult to deal with, but with the holidays coming up, coping becomes even more challenging. Christmas songs are playing on the radio and in stores, people buying gifts, and sounds of laughter are all reminders that there will be at least one less person to find a present for, one less person to share the enjoyment of this 'merry' time of the year; and one less person whose voice and laughter will never be heard from again.

The sadness that people feel when missing the loved one can be overwhelming and quite 'crippling' to their functionality. People who are grieving might not want to participate in any social activities. They might just want to stay in bed and wait until the holidays are over. On the other hand, some might feel obligated to accept all the invitations to social events. To make matters more complicated, there can be children involved who have also lost a loved one.

There are many coping strategies that can help make the holidays more bearable, and perhaps, even enjoyable. They can help with the healing process as well.

For Those Who are Grieving

· There is NO right or wrong way to respond when grieving.

· Identify your fears. This will help you deal with them. Perhaps even discuss them with someone you trust.

· Acknowledge your feelings. It is all right to realize that it is normal to feel sadness and grief. It is okay now and then to take time just to cry or express your feelings. Repressing them will only make them last longer.

· Seek support. Find a friend, relative, or religious or social services that can provide you with support and will listen to you.

· Be realistic. Know what you can or cannot handle. Do not expect that others will know exactly what to do and say. It is all right to tell others what you need. It is okay to say 'No'.

· Ask and accept help for shopping, cooking, etc. if you feel things are getting to be too much. You do not have to do everything yourself.

· Set differences aside. Try to accept family members as they are. Leave old grievances or discussions about differences until a more appropriate time. Remember - they may be hurting as well, and people behave differently when they are grieving.

· Plan ahead. Pace yourself. Develop a calendar of specific days for shopping, cooking, visiting people, and other events. Schedule extra time for some solitude and relaxation. Take care of yourself - get more sleep.

· Take some time to be with people you enjoy, or spend some time volunteering and helping others. Bringing joy to them will help you feel better.

· Go where you want to go, and do what you want to do. You don't have to be at every party you are invited to.

· Do not abandon healthful habits, such as exercise, and eating healthy food items. Limit your drinking. Alcohol is a depressant. Also, do not drink and drive.

· Include the deceased in conversation. Look for positive memories. Pay some 'tribute', such as a gift, lighting a candle, or anything you are comfortable with, in memory of your loved one.

· If, at a social event, you get overwhelmed, go and find some place to be alone.

· Decide if you want to continue with family traditions, alter them, or start all over with your own traditions.

For those who have children:

· If you have children, remember that they may react differently from you. They also miss the person too, especially if it is their parent, sibling, relative, or friend.

· Talk to your children. Ask what they would find most comforting and meaningful.

· If they do not want to go to any social events, do not make them go. They may feel that they might not be able to cope in a social setting.

· Make concrete plans and share them; knowing what to expect can relieve anxiety for everyone.

· Allow children to do something nice for others; this can give special meaning at this time of the year.

· Create a new family tradition.

· Encourage children to write a note or draw a picture for the deceased. Hang it on the Christmas tree, frame it, or take it to the cemetery.

· Keep a scrapbook that anyone can add to. Include pictures that the deceased was in.

Holidays are one of the most emotional times of the year, because they do not last just one day. They last for weeks, from when the stores put out holiday decorations, the sales, the parties, all the way through to New Years. The above strategies will help make living through the holidays easier.

Please take care of yourself and your family, and have a safe holiday.

We recommend these further resources on bereavement:

Last updated: 17 Dec 2004
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Dec 2004
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