For many people who have lost a loved one, the mere thought of celebrating a holiday is overwhelmingly emotional. Holidays and other distinctive days can be extremely difficult, especially during the first year after the death of a loved one. It is important to understand that feeling this way is a natural part of the grieving process. The following advice is respectfully offered as a way to help cope with grief during a trying time of the year.
First and foremost, be sure to take care of yourself. Exercise can help to reduce stress and to increase your sense of well-being. Also, give your body the proper energy it needs by eating a healthy and balanced diet. Be watchful of overdoing the intake of any medications prescribed by a physician. Anti-anxiety medicines can sometimes be beneficial when dealing with a loss, but the excessive use of drugs or alcohol will only delay the sorrowful feelings, not eradicate them. Additionally, allow yourself the chance for adequate sleep, as the mind and body require rest to deal with mental and physical stress. Finally, find someone to talk to, whether it is a friend, family member, or grief counselor. Finding someone you can confide in and speak freely around will be extremely valuable during the healing process.
Every person deals with grief differently, but knowing some of the common physical and emotional responses experienced by grieving persons might aid in the ability to handle a loss. Some universal physical responses include difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, headaches, lack of energy, trouble sleeping, variation in eating habits, and hyperactivity. The emotional aspect could manifest itself as shock, disbelief, sadness, loneliness, guilt, anger, anxiety, nightmares, crying, and lack of concentration. No matter your own personal reactions to grief, know that it is okay to feel sadness, and conversely, it is okay to feel happiness. Even without the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be an emotional roller coaster, filled with pressure and fatigue. Allowing yourself to feel the way you do, whether that be crying at a poignant memory, or laughing at a fond one, is an integral part of grieving. Another important facet of the grieving process is giving yourself permission to cry. Don’t worry about having to “be strong” and not cry. Crying is similar to exercising, because both can reduce stress and ameliorate physical and emotional anguish.
Some of the usual activities participated in around the holidays may seem necessary, yet challenging to undertake. Shopping, sending letters, accepting invitations, and dealing with traditions each have their own unique worries, but can be handled one step at a time. Shopping can be done online or through catalogs, or by enlisting the help of a friend or confidant to assist with the task. It is not the end of the world if holiday greeting cards are not mailed, so evaluate your level of energy and omit the cards this year if you do not feel up to it. Also, accepting every invitation received, even if you feel an obligation to attend, may cause undue stress. By accepting just a select few, you may find enjoyment and even comfort in the company of others without feeling overtaxed. Perhaps the largest hurdle to overcome is the holiday tradition. A death in the family could mean not knowing whether to proceed with a much loved tradition. Remember that new traditions can always be started, and then stopped, if they are not working out. Perhaps a twist on an old tradition, such as changing the menu on a dinner normally served, or opening gifts at a different time, could ease the pain associated with that particular holiday staple. Communicating with other grieving family members to determine everyone’s needs and wishes is helpful, and reaching a compromise on how to deal with a sorrowful tradition is healthy for all involved.
Choosing a special and personal way to memorialize your loved one during the holidays could prove to be therapeutic as well. Some suggestions include planting a tree, lighting candles, sharing memories with family members, offering a dinner prayer or toast, and purchasing a gift or putting the money towards a charitable donation in the name of your loved one. Although special tributes like these can be intensely emotional, they are usually helpful in dealing with grief during the holidays. Grieving children may also find participating in activities like these particularly meaningful, and letting them choose what kind of memorial can be especially comforting to them. Remember that the death of a loved one is very difficult for a child or adolescent, and patience is crucial to their recovery. Whatever is decided upon, the deeply personal choice of how to memorialize a loved one is an endeavor the whole family can participate in.
Holidays are, without a doubt, an extremely difficult time when dealing with the loss of a loved one. Please remember that you are not alone, and that there are many people able and willing to help. Turning to a pastor, counselor, friend or relative can be encouraging and therapeutic. The guidance provided and support given will be helpful when feelings of discouragement and sorrow seem overwhelming. Allowing yourself to grieve in your own way will help ease the pain of holidays without a loved one.