Holiday Help, Healing, and Hope

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Friday, December 16, 2016

The holidays can add a measure of distress for some people who are grieving. During the holidays we may find our mailbox flooded with messages and articles about how to handle the holidays, asking us whether we are happy or not, and including suggestions of participating in a webinar on how to cope. I too have written articles the past such as, “Coping with Holiday Grief.”

But, this year the flood of emails began to make me wonder, and I asked myself…

If I was newly bereaved, how would this flood of advice make me feel?

If you’ve recently lost someone you dearly love, you might be struggling with uncertainty about how to get through the holidays. As the holidays near, I all too often hear people say they wish they could just go to sleep and wake up when the holidays are over.

We’re unsure that we can ever be happy again when someone close to us is gone and won’t be there to celebrate with us. We may begin to feel frustrated by being bombarded from so many different directions with suggestions about how best to “make it through” that it becomes overwhelming and difficult to navigate. Sometimes, we feel even worse because nothing seems to help.

Holidays can stir past memories and may trigger “grief bursts.” Some people may try to avoid grief by not decorating, going away from home for the holidays, or avoiding social interaction. While some have reported it helps, others say it only delayed the feelings.

Strategies for Managing the Holidays While Grieving

Grief is unique to each individual, and the holidays can be extra demanding on our lives.

  • Listen to your internal voice and instinct.
  • Define a strategy for yourself to help you through rough times.
  • Remind yourself that we each grieve at our own pace.
  • As you make decisions listen to yourself.
  • Be careful not to overdo it. Grieving takes a great deal of energy and when we allow ourselves to overdo it, we may find ourselves even more susceptible to getting sick.
  • If you find you prefer to keep busy, the holidays can be the perfect time to stay occupied to help avoid the pain of grief. There is nothing wrong with the coping strategy; however, be sure to include time to sit in reflection and remember your loved one. Don’t overbook yourself with activities.
  • The holidays may also be an opportunity for you to find a positive way to remember your loved one. Some people look for ways to continue the bond with their loved one and celebrate their memory. Candle vigils of remembrance are often available in many cities through religious institutions, funeral homes, or private venues hosted by hospice foundations and Compassionate Friends.
  • You may also consider keeping a journal to help document how you are feeling. Write down memories and what you did to help get through difficult feelings and times. Keeping a journal can be a helpful way for you to look back to see where you’ve been. You choose how often you write in it and whether to share your writings with anyone else or keep it to yourself. It can also help serve as a reminder of what has helped you through rough times in the past and what was not helpful. Some things to consider in a journal can be found in an example used by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD).

Whether you do things the way you always have or choose to make new traditions, whether you avoid or immerse yourself in the holidays, remember to be true to yourself and the ones you love. Life is a continuous journey and your experiences can be your own teacher. There is no right or wrong way, so remember to be gentle to yourself whatever your choices are and reach out to your supports if you find yourself struggling.

Linda Coughlin Brooks is the SUDEP Institute Bereavement Support Facilitator; she contributes regular articles as part of our bereavement support services. You can contact Linda at Watch for future articles and learn more about our support for those bereaved.

If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, 365 days a year.

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