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How to Cope With Loss During the Holidays

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Nov 30, 2016 9:06:21 AM

Holidays just aren’t the same when you have lost a loved one.

Though coping with the emptiness is challenging every day, the grief can be perplexing and overwhelming during this time of year.

One minute, you are fine and enjoying time with family. The next, a yuletide song on the radio leaves you heartbroken.

Grief during the holidays is especially profound the first year of your loss. However, it can also linger for years. That’s because holidays mark the passage of time in our lives, according to Grief.com. “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.”

So how do you cope? Is there a way you can have a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah or wonderful New Year following the death of a spouse, partner, family member or friend?

Here is some advice that might help:

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Do what feels right.
If participating in a traditional activity will make you feel too sad, postpone it. It’s ok to say that you can’t handle it. Others around you will understand and give you space. Likewise, if singing your favorite carol gives you joy, don't feel guilty about it.

Understand and accept your emotions. Don’t feel guilty that you aren’t happy right now. The grieving process is complicated, and there's not a common schedule when dealing with it. You should accept the “normalcy” of your emotions. You may alternate between feeling joyful, peaceful, sad and guilty. Don’t judge yourself.

Stay connected. Let your family and friends know how you would like to spend the holidays with them. Ask for their support as you deal with your grief. Assure them that they do not have to be your therapist. Having a good cry on their shoulders or taking a long walk together can help you get through a particularly tough stretch.

Surround yourself with children. Most holiday celebrations focus on little ones. To them, this is a magical time of year. If you have children in your family, plan time with them. Their smiles might make you smile. Maybe you can help a neighbor who has children prepare for Santa’s visit. Know your limits, though.

Have an exit strategy. Anxiety is often rooted in the anticipation of an event (rather than the reality of its outcome). If you agree to attend an event, plan a way to politely step away if it becomes too much. Sometimes, knowing that you can leave is enough to get you through the entire event.

Accept that less is more. Instead of decking all of the halls, why not decorate one small tree? Instead of shopping endlessly for relatives, why not make donations to charities on their behalf in the name of your loved one? Keeping it simple will reduce your stress and enable you to focus on yourself.

Honor your loved one. Light a candle, plant a tree or make a donation in your loved one’s memory. Bring your family together and hang their favorite ornament in a special place on the tree. For example, Johnson Memorial Health annually hosts a Loving Lights Celebration to honor the memories of lost loved ones. Such acknowledgements are healthy ways to grieve. You also might be starting new family traditions.

Change your environment. If your loved one hosted a holiday celebration every year, move it to another family member’s house. Maybe you could volunteer at a shelter on Christmas morning. Going somewhere else can ease the flood of emotions and make them more manageable.

If you decide to change your plans or opt out of a celebration, let someone know what you are doing. They will certainly understand. They also can check on you from time to time.

If you are struggling with holiday grief, here is where you can get help. 

Topics: Mental Health