Coping with Grief during the Holiday Season

If we are grieving a loss, we may find this time of year difficult.  As the sights and sounds of the holiday season surround us, feelings and memories surface, sometimes in surprising and unexpected ways.  Even if the grief we carry is not recent, feelings of hurt and emptiness can still emerge.  What do we do with these painful moments? How do we cope during this season that our culture promotes as “the most wonderful time of the year?”

Self-care is essential at all times of the year and is especially important at this sensitive season.  In my reading and research, I’ve discovered some ways that may make the holidays easier.  Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Come as you are.  In other words, recognize that you are a grieving person and gently care for yourself.
  • Expect contradictory feelings.  For example, you may enjoy time with friends and still miss your loved ones.  Having contradictory feelings is part of being human.
  • Adapt cherished traditions.  Feel free to keep those traditions that are meaningful for you and let go of less important ones.  Remember, you can always return to those traditions another year when you’re ready for them.
  • Delegate.  Can someone else do the decorating, baking, cooking, addressing Christmas cards?
  • Take care of yourself.  Remember that grief is hard on our bodies.  Eat wisely, exercise routinely, rest often.
  • Know your limits.  There’s nothing wrong with simplicity.  A small tree on a table or a single candle is just fine.
  • Plan ahead.  If you shop, make your shopping list ahead of time and go shopping on a good day.  Planning ahead keeps feelings of overwhelm at bay.
  • Honor your loved one.  Consider writing a poem about your loved one and reading it at the dinner table.  Or buy a gift that your loved one would have liked and give it to someone who might not receive a gift.
  • Focus on the spiritual dimensions of the season.  Take time to be quiet, listen to music, take a contemplative walk, meditate, pray, attend your spiritual community.
  • Plan for after the holidays.  For some, the post-holiday season may be most difficult as friends and family depart.  Have something you look forward to in February or March.  This can help elevate mood.

Remember that we can choose how we celebrate.  Our celebrations need not be identical to those in previous years.  Consider your needs today and work with them.  Taking care of ourselves and being intentional about our choices can make the holiday season much easier, if not more enjoyable.

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