Coping with Loss During the Holidays, part 1

Posted on November 07, 2016

Christmas is a few weeks away, and for many it is a truly joyous time of year. It can also be painful, especially if it’s the FIRST Christmas without our loved one. It can be very trying to feel joy and happiness when we have lost a love in our life. It is easy to focus on the negative aspects of loss. I would like to challenge each of us to find the joy in our loss. That is to say, try to focus on the positive.
Remember how mom made her famous apple pie, or how dad might tell stale old jokes that everyone laughed at in spite of their old-fashioned nature. Holidays are a time of traditions for many, and I believe remembering those family joys and making new traditions can help tremendously in a time of loss.

 Every family is different and what works for one family may not be the perfect fit for your family—and that’s okay. You should try to come up with your own meaningful ways to remember your loved one.

 Another thing that I believe helps in many ways is to tell your story. Share your experiences and the resulting feelings with others. Consider sharing with family members, a close friend, your minister, or just a concerned friend. Sharing your difficulties can help make them manageable and also helps with healing. If we can share our grief, the after effects can be diminished. If you feel comfortable sharing, try talking about how you feel. You might find it to be very helpful.

 Remember, you still have time to change things in your life if you aren’t comfortable with them. Examine your holiday traditions and see if you feel comfortable in carrying out those traditions, or if it would be easier this year to do something different. You need to think about what is best for you at this time.

 Here are some helpful hints and things to consider:

 1. Set boundaries and decide how many events or functions you might want to attend. Be in control of your schedule and also consider how you will respond when somebody says “Happy Holidays” or “Best Wishes to You.” When grieving, it can be difficult to attend holiday parties and have to act “recovered.” If that is the case for you, just don’t go. Kindly thank them for the invitation but say you won’t be able to attend this year. You don’t owe them a further explanation, but you owe yourself what is best for you at this point in your life. At the same time, consider each invitation. It might be helpful to attend a few gatherings if you feel up to it. The choice has to be yours.

 2. Identify your fears. Give them a name. Then learn how to handle them. What are some of your fears? Try writing them each on a piece of paper and put them in a box. Then pull them out one at a time and set aside a specific time to deal with that fear or anxiety. Don’t try to tackle them all at once.

 3. Plan ahead for family gatherings. Perhaps you don’t feel like being the host or hostess this year and that’s okay. Don’t feel guilty about that. If you do want to have people over, have dessert and coffee instead of a full meal. Simplify your life and be comfortable. Be honest in sharing your feelings with your family and friends. Feelings are not right or wrong, they just are, and ignoring them won’t make them go away. We get relief from grief when we share with others who listen without offering judgment. Don’t be afraid to let your feelings out. Here are some things that have worked for others: if you are angry, throw large marshmallows at the wall or take a hammer and pound on a piece of board. Do something that is not harmful to you, but get it out. You cannot run from your feelings.

 4. Remember to allow for different grieving styles within the same family. Men grieve differently than women. Children have their own way of expressing emotions. Husbands are different than wives. Siblings don’t deal with situations in the same way. Anger, sadness, frustration, are all normal feelings.

 5. During the holidays intersperse some rest and relaxation. Do something special for yourself. Grieving is hard work, so make sure you get enough rest.

 6. Journaling is a great activity for anyone. Writing your thoughts and feelings down can help get them outside of ourselves and putting them in writing can be a useful measuring tool to gauge how you are progressing.

 7. Try not to compare your life and sadness with someone else’s. Sometimes it can be easy to be jealous of a family who outwardly is intact and seems to be able to enjoy the holiday. Contrary to our illusions, holiday times are often not ideal times for families. Every family has its own unique relationship structures and gathering together can be joyous, but also stressful and difficult.

 8. Avoid the excessive use of alcohol and food. Abusing any substance can lead to depression and more problems. If you try to use those things as avoidance, the issues and feelings you faced will still be there once you are through your binge. 

Look for part 2, coming December 1st.

William E. Judd, Jr., Funeral Director


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