Managing Grief and Loss During the Holidays
by Amanda Bartow
If you have recently lost a loved one, or if it’s a first holiday without your loved one, this time of year can be especially difficult. While many people are making merry, you may find it overly taxing to participate or feel joy. Grief is not a one-size-fits-all emotion, and while the pain does ease over time, it’s helpful to seek out ways to manage your heartache this holiday season.
Whatever You’re Feeling Is Okay
Because loss affects everyone in different ways, there is no specific timeline or rule that can be applied to grieving. It’s deeply personal and not always easy to articulate. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be quiet. It’s okay to withdraw. It’s okay to cry. Don’t let the pressures of the season force you to avoid what you are feeling.
Get Out of Town
Sometimes the best way to deal with the holidays is to leave them behind. You may not necessarily want a busy vacation, but time away from home and away from the hustle and bustle can be therapeutic. And you are allowed to avoid the holidays. Leave home and set off for a week at the beach or in the mountains. Giving yourself permission to check out is perfectly acceptable.
Quite often it’s tempting to give in to the numbing effects of alcohol when you are grieving, but that will actually make you feel worse. As a depressant, the effects of alcohol can magnify your feelings of pain and loss. And while not everyone is likely to exhibit addictive behavior, alcohol combined with grief can be a slippery slope for becoming dependent on drinking. If you must drink, be mindful of your intake and apply moderation.
It’s normal to want to avoid “bringing others down” with your grief, but those closest to you really do understand that you are in turmoil. If it’s too painful to attend a celebration, or you just can’t bring yourself to adhere to a tradition, communicate this to friends and family. Let them know you need time and space. Alternatively, you may be feeling even more alone. When this happens, reach out to others for comfort. It’s okay (and healthy) to ask for help. More than likely your friends and family will want to do whatever they can to help you through this difficult time.
It’s Okay to Feel Joy
You might catch yourself laughing or having a good time, but then you feel guilty. You may feel comforted when putting up decorations or baking, but then you feel like you are not mourning appropriately. Remember that it’s okay to be happy, it’s okay to be sad. Grief is a rollercoaster, and there are many highs and lows.
Honor Their Memory
Do make time to honor and remember the one you have lost. It’s important to celebrate the life of your loved one, and to savor the memories of past experiences. Taking the time to focus on the wonderful things you remember or doing something they would have enjoyed during the holidays can help you feel more connected. Whether it’s lighting a candle, donating to a charity in their honor, or revisiting a favorite tradition, these small acknowledgments can bring great comfort.
Give to Others
Sometimes the simple act of volunteering or helping others can be of great emotional value when you are grieving. Volunteer your time at a local food bank, hospital or nursing home. Bake something for your friends, family or neighbors. If you know someone who is spending the holiday alone, invite them over for dinner or coffee.
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