Mind & Body
Grieving During the Holidays
12/1/2019 1:00:00 PM

The holidays are supposed to be a joyous time, full of cheer and fun times with family and friends. But for anyone who has recently – or even not so recently – experienced the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be a very difficult time. When you’re feeling a little (or a lot) less joyous than those around you, it can be tempting to try to just skip the holidays altogether, but we all know that’s not exactly realistic, or healthy, for that matter. 

Andy Hankins, licensed funeral director with Johnson Funeral Home, says the most productive thing you can do for yourself is to accept that grief goes hand-in-hand with healing. "This acceptance is the first step in moving forward, and although it’s the holidays, there are ways you can grieve and still enjoy this time of year.”

One of the first things you can do is give yourself a break. We are all guilty of over-stretching ourselves at times. We agree to do too many things until we find we don’t have time to even take care of ourselves. And remember, it’s not just you that’s experiencing the grief you’re feeling right now, and to be what you need to be for not only yourself, but the rest of your family, you shouldn’t stretch yourself too thin. "You cannot pour from an empty cup, and that may mean holding yourself accountable for making sure your cup is filled,” says Hankins. "Maybe you normally cook 90% of Christmas dinner by yourself, go all out on decorations, help with the school Christmas program, host your work party. It’s okay to scale back on your responsibilities this year. Make time for yourself, for your family, and for what you need the most.” He says it’s also important to be aware of things that may be triggers for you. If it’s an event that you know will bring forward painful emotions, it’s okay to bow out. Others may tell you it will be healthy for you, but you know you best, and you don’t have to please everyone by participating in things that will cause you unnecessary pain.  

Another way to cope is to create new traditions. Doing things out of the ordinary can be really fun and will be a healthy way to acknowledge that things are different. Attempting to force things to stay the same will be exhausting and, most likely, an utter failure, because they simply aren’t the same. Maybe host a Christmas brunch instead of dinner, have a candle ceremony where each member of the family shares memories of your passed loved one, get an ornament every year in remembrance, or even create a remembrance tree. "Doing things to honor your loved one’s memory is one of the best ways to come to peace with the fact that they are no longer with you,” adds Hankins. 

Giving of your time and services is something that will always warm your heart. While you’re grieving, it may lift your spirits to do a little something extra for those in need. Even when you are feeling the lowest of lows, you still have so much to offer to the world, and while grief can make you feel lost and lonely, offering your time to others will help you feel a little more like you have a place and a purpose. "Every shelter, nursing home, and charity organization around can use extra help, and while your helping hands will make a difference in their lives, you may notice the thing that stands out most is your own healing,” says Hankins.

The grieving process is different for everyone and will undoubtedly appear so to others. Hankins has seen this first-hand many times: "Even people in your life who are enduring it themselves – or have before – may not be able to recognize when you’re having a particularly rough day. It will help you and those around you if you’re open about your emotions and willing to ask for help. We are given loved ones and friends so that we can have a support system in hard times. Sometimes, though, people in our lives may not realize how to help. Let them know what they can do – maybe you just want company, maybe you need an ear, maybe you just need someone to go Christmas shopping with you. Whatever it is, be up front in asking for it. People want to be there for you.”

Finding a support group or scheduling with a professional therapist may be a good thing for you as well. Connecting with others who are suffering through a similar loss as you can be cathartic and productive. A therapist will provide clarity for you in what can feel like the most complex roller coaster of emotions you’ve ever been on. They will help you make sense of your new reality, provide comfort, answers, and paths to healing. 

Most of all, experts agree that the path to healing is unpredictable. This unpredictability is the only thing that is predictable. "Maybe you’ve gotten to a place that feels a little more comfortable, but the holidays are bringing out emotions you thought you had behind you. This is normal,” assures Hankins. "Grief is not a straight line, but you will get through it and cross over to something that feels more like normal – your new normal. Until then, hold tightly to your family and friends, the positive things in your life, and celebrate the memory of your passed loved one by enjoying the holidays in a whole new way.”

Posted by: Lauren Morris | Submit comment | Tell a friend

Categories: Health

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