CHAMPAIGN — Holidays mark the passage of time in our lives. They are part of the milestones we share with each other and they generally represent time spent with family. They bring meaning to certain days and we bring much meaning back to them. But since holidays are for being with those we love the most, how on earth can anyone be expected to cope with them when a loved one has died? For many people, this is the hardest part of grieving, when we miss our loved ones even more than usual.
Daniel Applegate with Compass Counseling and Consulting talks more about this.
What are a couple aspects that you would like people to understand about their grief during the holidays?
It is not the grief you want to avoid, it is the pain. Grief is the way out of the pain. Grief is our internal feelings and mourning is our external expressions.
There is no right or wrong way to handle the day. Some may wish to follow family traditions, while others may choose to change.
What are some things to keep in mind for people grieving a loss during the holidays?
-Allow time and space for your feelings. No self-judgment and no self-shaming, just honor your feelings and know that it is okay to be struggling with feelings of loss.
-Include the deceased in your conversations and celebrations. Hang a stocking for your loved one in which people can put notes with their thoughts or feelings.
-Look at photographs. Once others realize that you are comfortable talking about your loved one, they can relate stories that will add to your pleasant memories.
-Keep in mind the feelings of your children or family members. Try to make the holiday season as joyous as possible for them. Ask for or let people around you help…preparing meals, wrapping presents, shopping for you.
-Do not isolate yourself and plan to be with the people YOU enjoy.
-Do something for others: volunteer at a soup kitchen; visit the lonely and shut-ins; ask someone who is alone to share the day with your family; provide help for a needy family; House, see if you can help make someone else’s holiday happier.
-Remember, anticipation of any holiday is so much worse than the actual holiday. Donate a gift or money in your loved one’s name.
-Try to get enough rest.
Is there something people should be doing to make the emotional impact a little softer?
There is really no single answer of what one should or shouldn’t do because every person experiences every loss is a unique way.
The key to coping with grief during the holidays is to find the way that is right for you.
Some people find it helpful to be with family and friends, emphasizing the familiar. Others may wish to avoid old sights and sounds, perhaps even taking a trip. Others will find new ways to acknowledge the season.
What are some final points to getting through the holidays?
-Plan for the approaching holidays. Be aware that this might be a difficult time for you. The additional stress may affect you emotionally, cognitively, and physically; this is a normal reaction. It is important to be prepared for these feelings.
-Recognize that holidays won’t be the same. If you try to keep everything as it was, you’ll be disappointed. Doing things a bit differently can acknowledge the change while preserving continuity with the past.
-Be careful not to isolate yourself. It’s alright to take time for yourself but don’t cut yourself off from the support of family and friends.
-The holidays may affect other family members. Talk over your plans. Respect their choices and needs, and compromise if necessary.
Avoid additional stress. Decide what you really want to do, and what can be avoided.