The holidays are often thought of as a joyful time of the year, filled with sights and sounds of seasonal cheer. Yet for people struggling with the death of a family member or loved one, the holidays can be difficult.
The season may be full of reminders of the loss in our lives. And it is not just recent losses. During the holidays, feelings of grief can seem fresh, even if a loved one died years ago. Mourning a loss during the holidays can seem overwhelming or impossible to maneuver, both for the bereaved and those who want to help but don’t know how.
Awareness and acknowledgement of loss are powerful sources of healing. By reaching out to others at their most vulnerable time, we can bring hope and healing, as many face a first holiday season without their special person.
Encouragement and support for those grieving during the holidays may simply mean asking what can be done to help. or it may be allowing them to share and speak the name of their loved one, something others may avoid.
While our inclination is to avoid people’s pain and turn away, it is important to be brave and reach out. It may be surprising how much hope one person can impart. Simple words of kindness and compassion can help fill a lonely and isolating time with new meaning and even new rituals through loss.
These simple acts can send a message of hope and endurance. While we cannot fix another’s grief, we can bear witness and show we care.
Grief work is hard work, especially at a time when others are full of joy. Long-standing holiday rituals and celebrations may seem forever changed, or they may bring comfort, as people bravely move forward in healthy ways.
Don’t be afraid to reach out in kindness to those who may be sad. Encourage them to find ways to honor a life by sharing old traditions or making new ones. Permission to sing a favorite holiday song or to tackle a traditional recipe, while shedding a tear, can bring joy and love to bear.
If you are suffering from the loss of a loved one and have asked yourself, “How will I be able to make it through the holidays?” here are a few ways to cope during this difficult time:
- Plan for the approaching holiday. Be aware that this might be a difficult time. The stress may affect you emotionally, mentally and physically. This is a normal reaction.
- Recognize that the holidays won’t be the same. Expecting things to seem unchanged might lead to disappointment. Doing things a bit differently acknowledges the change in your life but still offers continuity with the past.
- Be careful not to isolate yourself. It’s important to take quiet, reflective time but also allow yourself the support offered from friends and family.
- Surround yourself with life, people and activity. Connect with your family and friends and be honest with them about how you are feeling. Express to them that emotional support is important, especially during the holidays.
- Honor the people missing in your life. Call to mind pleasurable memories of your loved one or share special photographs with your family and friends. While remembering may be painful, it is also therapeutic.
- Take care of yourself. A grieving body is more susceptible to illness and needs proper nourishment and rest. Eat right and get enough sleep, and don’t forget to exercise. An increased production of endorphins can create a positive attitude and help reduce stress.
- Give to others. Giving to others warms your heart, puts your life in perspective and takes the focus off your own feelings. Any random act of kindness will make you feel better and will help take your mind off your sorrows.
- Allow yourself to cry when you feel you need to cry. Ignore any voice telling you to be strong. Crying can actually help reduce your stress and anxiety.
We each incorporate loss daily into who we are as human beings. Sometimes we are helpers and sometimes we need a helping hand.
While grief is a process for those enduring loss, kindness is key. This journey need not be made alone.