Coping With Grief During the Holidays

Holidays are a difficult time for families after the death of a loved one, especially when the death has been within the last year. While other people and families are looking forward to the holidays with happy anticipation, those of us who know someone will be missing look forward to the holidays with apprehension.  

Following are some suggestions to help you through the holidays. I will not promise you “no pain,” but, perhaps, some of these thoughts will help to make you feel less alone and better able to face the day.

Cry. Give yourself permission to cry. Tears are nature’s way of helping us heal. They are not a sign of weakness or “falling apart.” I think that when we “fall apart,” we are, in reality, beginning to “fall together” again and have started on the path of healing and growth.

Needs. Let others know what you need. You don’t have to do anything or go anywhere or be anything that forces you to pretend you are feeling better than you do. Some people will understand and some won’t. Cherish those who do understand and forgive those who can’t because they just don’t know better.

Plan. Talk to your family and decide what you will do and what the day will look like. Will you have the usual dinner? Will you go out instead? Who will take care of what tasks?

Remember. Allow time to remember the person who is gone. Plan a memorial. Light a special candle, plant a tree, share memories… Create your own special way to remember the person you love.

Give. Consider purchasing a gift that you would have given to the person who has died, and give it to a charity. The best tribute to your loved one is to share the love you would have given them with someone else. This is one important way in which you can give that person’s life meaning.

Nurture yourself. Rest and eat balanced meals. Avoid sugar and alcohol because they tend to exacerbate emotions by throwing our body chemistry off balance. You may want to take a walk in nature, ride your bike, participate in a sport you enjoy, allow yourself extra time in bed, take a long leisurely bath or shower — do whatever you find healing.

I want to remind you to be very gentle with yourself and with your family. The holidays may be anticipated with dread, but if planned and time allowed for the grief and sharing of memories, you might find some of your tears turning into joy and laughter.

©Virginia A. Simpson, Ph.D., 1997