Rosh Hashangettyimages-178675880_compah, Yom Kippur, Eid al-Adha, Sukkot, Diwali/Deepavali, Halloween, All Saint’s Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan, Kwanza, New Years- the months of September-January are filled with a number of annual holidays that can be a very difficult to navigate for those who have lost a loved one.

Holidays can be a time for celebration, special meals, decorations, periods of reflection and time to connect with family, friends and community.  Holidays can be a magical, chaotic and arguably a stressful time under the best of circumstances.  When someone you love has died, the holidays can feel overwhelming, painful, lonely, or sad. The holidays, particularly the first holiday after a death, can feel like an unwelcome reminder that time continues to move forward.

Suggestions to help cope with grief

Plan ahead: anxiety about specific holidays or celebrations can be more intense than the actual event.  Planning ahead can help restore feelings of control and empowerment and help your family, especially for grieving children.

Set realistic expectations:Decide what you and/or your family are willing to tolerate this year.  Talk about the different holidays and events and what each person is interested or able to handle.  Once you have decided what you will or will not participate in, let your friends, family, or community know so they can support your decision.

It is okay to say no: Grief can change from one day to the next.  It is okay to say no or cancel attending an event if you are having a hard day. Resist the urge to let others, even well-meaning supportive people, tell you how you “should” or “should not” participate in the holidays.

Find support: Holiday support can come in many forms.  Sharing memories and feelings with friends or family can be a healing and comforting experience.  For others, looking for support outside your community or networks may feel more comfortable.  Support groups, counseling, and meet-ups are all great ways to find support during the holidays.

Ask questions: if you are concerned about who will be in attendance at certain events, expectations others may place on you, or want to avoid toxic or unhealthy people or situations- ask about the event beforehand.   If you are concerned about a toxic or unhealthy situation, ask a friend or family member to leave with you or support your decision to leave.

Celebrate in a way that feels good: There may be ways in which celebrating the holidays feels helpful or healing.  This may include celebrating in the same ways as years past, in a different way, or not at all.  Allow space for different family members to participate, or not participate, in ways that feel important to their particular grief journey.

Prioritize your self-care: Make sure you are getting sleep, eating healthy foods, drinking water, and participating in physical activity.  Making time to care of yourself is important when you are grieving and even more so when you are balancing physically or emotionally challenging events at the holidays.

Find ways to honor your loved: Some individuals and families explore or adopt new ways to honor the person who died during the holiday season.  Here are few examples:

  • Make a donation to a charity in your loved one’s name
  • Write a letter or card to your loved one
  • Create a memory box and invite friends and family to share memories of your loved one
  • Create a space for your loved one a holiday table
  • Share your loved one’s favorite holiday meal or treat
  • Light a candle in your loved one’s honor
  • Set a time to play your loved one’s favorite music, movies, or television show
  • Volunteer at an event that your loved one felt strongly about

The most important thing to remember is that there is no handbook, no right way, and no wrong way to celebrate the holidays when you are grieving.  Take time for yourself and participate in ways that feel good and helpful to you.

 

References

Association for Death Education and Counseling. (n.d.). Grief Process: What to Expect and Self-Care. Retrieved October 25, 2016 from: http://www.adec.org/adec/ADEC_Main/Find-Help/CopingWithLossNew/Grief-Process.aspx

The Dougy Center. (n.d.). Getting through the Holidays.  Retrieved October 25, 2016 from: http://www.dougy.org/grief-resources/getting-through-the-holidays/.

Vitas Health Care. (n.d.). Coping with Grief During the Holidays. Retrieved October 25, 2016 from: http://www.vitas.com/resources/grief-and-bereavement/coping-with-grief-during-the-holidays