The grieving process can make the holidays very challenging…
We all remember our first feelings of grief and learning how to work through this new, uncomfortable process. For many of us, our first experience with grief came in childhood. For me, my first moment came with the tragic loss of the great Epple family. Most of the family died in an ugly car accident in central Missouri. The thought of suddenly not seeing them at church, along with the loss of a childhood friend’s younger brother, was new and foreign. The tears of sadness that ran down my cheeks one night were certainly an unfamiliar experience, and I felt vulnerable to my young, raw emotions.
Holidays can also emphasize accumulating family problems, such as divorce or the displacement of a parent. I remember delivering Christmas presents in Atlanta to families with the Angel Tree Project. These families were dealing with the loss of a parent due to imprisonment, and this was their first holiday season without the parent. I still remember the firm, tearful hug from the mother who had several young children to care for. She didn’t know how she was going to afford presents for them. Her husband had recently been sent to prison and she didn’t have much support. The pure joy she shared after receiving these gifts was so genuine and real. She blessed us in more ways than she’ll ever know during her time of grief.
Whether it is the loss of a parent, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a child, or the loss of another friend or family member, the dull ache of grief is painful. For some families, this grief comes through the cold reality of losing a parent or spouse to dementia right before their eyes. When this grief is combined with the holidays it can become quite intense and overwhelming, especially with all the other drama that can crop up during the holidays.
The holiday season can also bring back so many memories of loved ones lost. Who will carve the turkey without Dad or Grandpa? Who will provide Grandma’s normal holiday gift of something heartfelt and oh-so-special for each grandchild? And the holiday pictures just won’t be the same without Mom’s need for multiple pictures around the tree. That first holiday season can be very difficult for the survivors going through grief.
Tips for Coping With Grief During the Holidays
So how do we, the vulnerable human survivors who’ve been left behind, cope with this grief? How can we help other family members or friends who are going through this grieving period? Do we recognize their pain and can we be sensitive to it? When we try to help, do we just make the pain worse? What can we do?
Here are a few things for us to remember during the holidays:
1. Be Realistic – Recognize and acknowledge that the holiday season will be different and there will be tough situations. Set realistic expectations for you and your family. We also have to remember that not everyone will grieve the same way, so expect there to be differences between grieving family members and be sensitive.
2. Change Traditions When Needed – Somewhere during the process you may decide that certain traditions need to change, but other traditions should continue. Don’t be afraid to change traditions where needed, and openly communicate with each other. Maybe it is time to start a new tradition!
3. Surround Yourself With People Who Truly Love and Support You – Grief can cut deep during the holidays. Sharing that time with others who also share this pain can be helpful. Sharing memories can be a source of comfort, especially telling stories and looking at old photos. For the people who have not lost the loved one, providing love and support to a friend or family member going through grief is so helpful to them.
4. Create a Memory Box or Memory Stocking – When you can write down special memories you treasure, perhaps read them to others, and combine them in a memory box, it can help with the grieving process. Perhaps light a candle, share a special food dish, hang a unique ornament on the tree, or have a moment of silence — all in memory of the lost loved one.
5. Donate to a Charity or Adopt a Family in Memory of Your Loved One – Sharing with others in the memory of the lost loved one can be very peaceful for many during a period of grief. Many times donating to others will help us more than we realize until after we actually complete the donating process.
6. Be Real – Let your own perfectionism go during this time. It is okay if the tree isn’t perfect and up in the home by a certain date. If you need to skip part of holidays past, then skip it! Don’t force yourself to do things from the past just because they were part of the tradition. Ignore those people who tell you what you should be doing, and instead be real to yourself about what you can handle. Having said all this, avoid cancelling the entire holiday whenever possible.
7. Seek Gratitude – Look for those little things that you are grateful for in your life and celebrate these joys. Try to find a daily gratitude, and recognize these things for how they help you during this time. Be a giver of love and joy to others when possible, and you will find more for yourself during this time.
8. Take Care of Yourself – Holiday stress can lead to bad habits on it’s own, so adding grief to the holidays only compounds the problem. Watch the food, minimize the booze, don’t try to do too much, let others do the cooking if possible, and perhaps pamper yourself during this time. Quiet time and self-care can be so important during the holiday season.
9. Be Happy and Enjoy Yourself – Recognize the holiday season will be tough, but there will also be plenty of opportunity for sharing love and joy with others. Don’t feel guilty about being happy with others during this time. Sometimes we have to remember our lost loved one would always want us to be happy, so keep trying to smile as best you can.
The holidays will consume us in many ways, but when grief is combined with the holidays it can become very stressful for many. As we look for ways to bring joy to others during this holiday season, please be sensitive to friends and family going through grief. Support them, love them, and just be there when they need a lift during this holiday season. Someday they will be returning the favor to you during your time of need. I do believe giving joy to others will usually provide as much joy to the giver, so I hope you will experience the joy of giving this holiday season.
We look forward to the holiday season, and hope your family does as well. The Bell family celebrates Christmas and it is a special season for us. Whatever holiday traditions your family celebrates in December, we wish you peace and joy during this time. We all have different needs during the holiday season, so I hope this season meets your needs. We look forward to a chance to continue helping you during the upcoming year of 2020. If we can help you in any way, feel free to call us at (913) 345-2323.