The holidays are stressful enough already with shopping, finances, parties and the time crunch. Then there’s the additional stress from the expectations to have a fun and memorable family holiday. But few people have that Norman Rockwell kind of a holiday, and the holidays are even more difficult if you’ve lost a loved one. Even for people who have had a more remote loss, holidays can trigger grief.
The way to cope with the grief can depend on who the person you’ve lost is and how recent the loss was.
The following tips for dealing with loss and grief during the holidays were provided by UW Carbone Cancer Center staff members Lisa McGuffey, PhD, clinical health psychologist; Kate Ford Roberts, MA, RN, BSN, CHPN, palliative care nurse program coordinator; and Kendra McIntosh, MDiv, BCC, palliative care chaplain.
10 Tips for Managing Loss and Grief
Acknowledge There Will be Grief
The holidays may trigger your grief at unexpected times, or you may feel more intense grief at certain times. Plan in advance some ways you can express your emotions or how you can get support when you feel grief.
Give Yourself Permission to do Less
This could mean less parties, less baking, less holiday movies, less anything. Make lists ahead of time of things you absolutely think you need to do, and be willing to let go of tasks that are not as important this year.
Do a Gesture to Recognize the Person You’ve Lost and to Keep Their Memory Alive
Put up a holiday decoration that they loved, light a candle, or say a prayer. Participate in a holiday event that was very special to them. Don’t be afraid to tell stories about them, and encourage others to share their own stories.
Feed Your Spirit
Pray, meditate, enjoy a cup of coffee outside in nature, or read words of scripture that are meaningful to you. Find an activity that connects with and recharges your spirit.
Seek Out Support
Reconnect with a community that provided support to you in the past, or connect with a new support group, including friends, family and faith groups. Remember that sometimes people want to help, but they don’t know how to do so without your asking.
Anticipate Questions and Comments and Consider Responses
For example, you might run into people you haven’t seen in a while who don’t know you’ve lost someone and they may say “I’m sorry” or “Where is such-and-such?” Have responses prepared so you’re not caught off guard.
Show Your Emotions, Especially to Those with Whom You are Most Comfortable
So many of us hold emotions in because we do not want anyone to see how upset we are. Don’t be afraid to be who you are, and the people around you will be supportive.
Change Something Around
Do something small, like moving the tree. Or, do something big, like going on a trip.
Buy a Gift for the Person You Have Lost
It may be difficult to not purchase a holiday present for someone who has recently passed. Wrap a gift for them and give it to a family member, or donate it to a family in need.
Be in the Present
Set your expectations to a reasonable level so that your anxieties do not overwhelm you. And when the holidays are over, no matter what happens, remind yourself that you can do any of it differently next year.
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