Holidays!" is a greeting we hear often
at this time of year - but if you're mourning
the loss of a loved one, the holiday season
may be anything but happy for you. Perhaps there
is no time of the year when we are more aware
of the empty space our loved one has left behind
than during the busy holiday season.
create feelings of dread and anxiety in those
of us who are bereaved. The clichéd images
of family togetherness and the often unrealistic
expectations of a season filled with picture-perfect,
joyful gatherings can cause tremendous stress
for those who are not grieving - let alone for
those in the midst of the painful, isolating
experience of loss. In our culture and in our
mass media, the pressure to produce warm and
wonderful holiday memories for and with our
families is enormous. But the reality is that,
when we're mourning the loss of a loved one,
we may not have the energy we ordinarily do.
When we're surrounded by nostalgia and traditions,
even the happiest memories can hurt. When we're
in the midst of pain, and the rest of the world
is in the mood to give thanks and celebrate,
we need to find ways to manage our pain and
get through the season with a minimum of stress.
How does one
celebrate the holidays when a loved one is so
sorely missed? Creating new rituals and new
traditions that may pay tribute to the memory
of the deceased is one way to survive - and
perhaps even embrace - the holidays when a loved
one has died.
for Coping with Grief During the Holidays
a family meeting. List all the
things you ordinarily do for the holidays (sending
greeting cards, decorating the house, stringing
outdoor lights, putting up a tree, holiday baking,
entertaining business associates, buying something
special to wear, going to parties, visiting
friends, exchanging gifts, preparing a big meal,
etc.) Decide together what's important to each
of you, what you want to do this year, what
you can let go of, and what you can do differently.
For each task on the list, ask yourself these
Would the holidays be the holidays without
doing this? Is this something I really want
to do? Do I do it freely, or out of habit or
tradition? Is it a one-person job, or can it
be a group effort? Who's responsible for getting
it done? Do I really like doing it?
some things differently this year.
Trying to recreate the past may remind you all
the more that your loved one is missing. This
year, try celebrating the holidays in a totally
different way. Nothing is the same as it used
to be anyway. Go to a restaurant. Visit relatives
or friends. Travel somewhere you've never gone
before. If you decide to put up a tree, put
it in a different location and make or buy different
decorations for it. Hang a stocking in your
loved one's memory, and ask each family member
to express their thoughts and feelings by writing
a note to, from or about your loved one, and
place the notes in that special stocking for
everyone to read. Buy a poinsettia for your
home as a living memorial to your loved one
for the holiday season. Find and read some of
the many helpful articles online, written specifically
to help those who are grieving get through the
holidays; you'll find links to many of them
on my Web site's Handling the Holidays.
other things more simply. You
don't have to discard all your old traditions
forevermore, but you can choose to observe the
holidays on a smaller scale this year.
good care of yourself. Build time
in your day to relax, even if you're having
trouble sleeping. Eat nourishing, healthy meals,
and if you've lost your appetite, eat smaller
portions more frequently throughout the day.
(Sweet, sugary foods are everywhere, from Halloween
until Easter, but too much sugar will deplete
what little energy you have.) Get some daily
exercise, even if it's just a walk around the
block. Avoid drinking alcohol, which intensifies
depression and disrupts normal sleep.
do it. We all know that we ought
to think positively, eat right, exercise more
and get enough rest - but grief by its very
nature robs us of the energy we need to do all
those good and healthy things. Accept that in
spite of what we know, it's often very hard
to do what's good for us-then do it anyway.
Don't wait until you feel like doing it.
attention to yourself. Notice
what you're feeling and what it is you need.
Feelings demand expression, and when we acknowledge
them and let them out, they go away. Feelings
that are "stuffed" don't go anywhere;
they just fester and get worse. If you need
help from others, don't expect them to read
your mind. It's okay to ask for what you need.
Besides, doing a favor for you during the holidays
may make them feel better, too. Be patient and
gentle with yourself, and with others as well.
to feel some pain. Plan on feeling
sad at certain moments throughout the season,
and let the feelings come. Experience the pain
and tears, deal with them, then let them go.
Have faith that you'll get through this and
that you will survive.
support from others. Grieving
is hard work, and it shouldn't be done alone.
You need to share your experience with someone
who understands and accepts the pain of your
loss. If your spouse, relative or friend cannot
be the source of that support, you can find
it elsewhere. Many hospices offer special workshops
in the months of November and December to help
survivors get through the holiday season. The
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
maintains a database of hospices for each state
in the United States. To search for a hospice
in your own community, go to Find a Hospice
something of yourself to others.
As alone as you may feel in your grief, one
of the most healing things you can do for yourself
is to be with other people, especially during
the holidays. Caring for and giving to others
will nourish and sustain you, and help you to
feel better about yourself. If you can bring
yourself to do so, visit someone in a nursing
home or hospice, or volunteer your time at your
church or synagogue, or at the local humane
society or animal shelter. Do whatever you can,
and let it be enough.
© 2003 – 2010 by Marty Tousley, CNS-BC,
FT. All rights reserved. www.selfhealingexpressions.com
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