Coping With Grief During the Holiday Season

Manage Expectations

Along with the holidays come expectations, from others and from self, as to how you should spend your time and how you should be feeling. Coping after a loss requires a great deal of mental, emotional, and physical effort. Remember, after the death of a loved one…figuratively, it’s like you have aged 20 years and put on 20 lbs. overnight. Living with a recent loss is exhausting! During the holidays, activities amp up, but that doesn’t mean that you have to attend everything. Safeguarding your time and energy might be one of the best ways that you can care for yourself. Also, allow yourself to feel whatever naturally emerges. The holidays often evoke stronger emotional reactions because of memories and traditions. Remove from your vocabulary should and shouldn’ts. Statements such as “I should be grateful for my health” or “I shouldn’t cry” only serve to deny whatever real underlying emotion needs to be expressed.

Adjust Traditions

How can this holiday season measure up to those before? They can’t, so resist the urge to compare. Instead of viewing this holiday as better or worse, accept that this year will be different. Honor some longstanding favorite traditions to create a connection to your deceased loved one. Allow for time to talk about and remember your loved one while you participate in these traditions. Creating new rituals will help you to have hope about the future and can provide you with some control at a time where you might feel powerless in other ways.

Create a wish list

Write a meaningful wish list, not your traditional holiday wish list. Take a personal inventory of what you might need most during this holiday season. Ask yourself and then answer honestly, “What would be helpful so that I can survive this holiday?” Perhaps you’ll find that receiving help from others would relieve some of the burden, such as asking for prepared meals, babysitting, or accompanying you while you shop. Be flexible with this wish list, adding to it as needed. But have it on hand so that when asked by a caring person, “Is there anything you need”, you will be ready and prepared with an answer. You can also ask a friend or family member to help you create this list since you might have a hard time putting your needs into words.

Do for someone else

Doing something thoughtful or charitable for someone else will offer you a break from your own pain and allow you to focus on someone else’s reality. Serving food at a homeless shelter or donating a small gift for a child could create a feeling of purpose and perhaps even some moments of joy. Honoring your loved one’s memory with an activity they would have enjoyed or appreciated helps create a feeling of closeness to them.

Handle with Care

Whenever I receive a package with the words “Handle with Care” written across, instinctively I treat that package with extra special tenderness and care. You are that package. Allow yourself plenty of rest, a proper diet, and surround yourself with people who recognize that you are to be handled with care.

For those wanting to be a source of comfort and support…

Offer Presence not Presents

Perhaps the best gift you can give someone grieving this holiday season is the gift of your unhurried presence. Listening and sharing the emotional weight of loss requires time and compassion. Be that person who is truly present for them by offering your undivided attention.

Pause Before You Speak

An all too common question asked is, “What do I say to someone who is grieving?” You might be fearful of saying the wrong thing. Before you utter a single word, determine if what you are about to say is truly meant to comfort them or you. If it is meant to comfort you, it might sound something like, “You just have to put your sadness aside and try to enjoy the holidays.” This does not offer comfort to the bereaved, rather it brushes their feelings aside, and this is meant to relieve you and not them.

Sometimes less is more. Healing words are not meant to remove their pain but rather assist them with expressing their feelings and experiences. Offering some words of comfort might include, “I imagine the holidays are extra tough on you, and I am here to listen and help”, or “I’ve been thinking about you this holiday, and I’m sorry you are hurting”. It is okay to ask straight forward questions about how they are coping such as, “How are you feeling“. Make sure to mention the name of the person who has died. You will not increase their sadness, rather it will show that you haven’t forgotten their loved one.

We can’t wrap this topic up and neatly tie it with a bow…but following these suggestions just might help. Wishing you peace, comfort and meaning this holiday season.

Alexandra Delgado