Many people think of the holidays as a joyful time of year, filled with the sights, sounds, and traditions associated with seasonal cheer. But if you are coping with the death of a family member or loved one, the holidays can be a difficult time.
For those living with loss, the holiday season may be full of painful reminders. Friends and family may be aware of recent losses and reach out for support. But if your loss is not recent, the holidays can make feelings of grief seem fresh, even if a loved one died years ago, and it is often challenging for those around you to understand.
Some people find it comforting to be with family and friends, feeling supported and embracing the familiar. Others may wish to avoid old traditions and try something new. If certain holiday traditions seem overwhelming to you, allow yourself to do something different.
Here are some tips for coping with grief during the holidays:
- Plan for the approaching holidays. Recognize that the holidays might be a difficult time for you. The stress may affect you emotionally, mentally, and physically. This is a normal reaction. Be prepared and gentle with yourself.
- Be aware that the holidays will not be the same. Expecting everything to seem the same might lead to disappointment. Doing things differently acknowledges the change in your life but still offers continuity with the past.
- Be careful not to isolate yourself. It is important to take quiet, reflective time for yourself but also to allow yourself the support offered from friends and family. If you cannot be together in person, telephone, Zoom, or Skype calls are a great way to stay in touch.
- The holidays may affect other family members. Talk over your plans and share your feelings. Respect others’ choices and needs.
- Avoid additional stress. Decide what you really want to do over the holiday season and give yourself permission to avoid doing things you don’t want to do.
- Access online resources. There are several online communities where grief and loss are discussed:
- Modern Loss describes itself as “candid conversations about grief. Beginners welcome.”
- The Dinner Party is a community of 20 and 30-year-olds who have experienced loss.
- Option B is a rich source of information and discussions around grief, loss, and resilience.
- The Center for Loss and Life Transition is dedicated to helping people who are grieving and those who care for them. And finally, Grief.com provides resources from an expert on grief and loss.
If your friend or loved one is experiencing grief during the holidays, consider these tips:
- Be willing to listen. Active listening from friends and family is an important step in helping individuals cope with grief and begin to heal. Do not tell those grieving to “get over it.” Instead, offer hope that, eventually, they will enjoy the holidays again.
- Follow up after the holidays to check in. Given the activity of the season, some people may make it through the holidays without any concerns, but they might find the post-holiday period to be more difficult. Checking in with some who is grieving after the holidays to see how he or she may be doing is helpful.
Beyond the tips provided here, your local community hospice can be a source of information to help you or your loved one cope with grief and loss or connect you with other, helpful community resources.