The magic and peace expected around the holidays can be difficult to embrace when you’re coping with grief and loss. Whether this is your first holiday after a loved one has died, you are managing another holiday with long-time grief or you are dealing with the sadness from no longer having someone special in your life due to conflict or the end of a relationship, this can be a painful time. The tips shared below will hopefully provide some encouragement and help as you navigate this holiday season.
1. Remember the holidays are a temporary time. Start by acknowledging the holidays are a unique time of the year where your emotions will get stirred up and feel heightened. Consider the strategies you are already using in the healing process and be prepared to use those on hard days. Identify in advance which days you may feel most triggered. Consider adding in even double the coping strategies you have previously used on those days to help yourself cope. Grief is not linear and it is common to feel completely “normal” one minute and overcome with panic and sadness in the next one.
2. Be proactive and have a plan. Set yourself up for success by having a plan in place. This may be setting aside time to take a nap after a social event, or scheduling in a long walk before an event. This might also include setting aside time to journal with a cozy blanket and a cup of tea. Make plans with people who understand if you need to cancel for self care. One client gave us permission to share what helped her. She said that in her family they planned in advance to go out of town for Thanksgiving and visit relatives to be in a different environment for the holiday. They also chose to stay in a hotel which gave them the opportunity to leave the celebration as needed. For Christmas, they compromised regarding what decorations they wanted to put up (if any). Lastly, they decided to plan a vacation for the week of Christmas so they would be away from home and creating a new memory. The client reported it has been helpful to look forward to being on vacation and do something totally different from how they normally celebrate.
3. Ask for what you need. It can be hard to ask for support and help, especially during this busy season. Identify the family and friends who you trust and will support you even when the support you need might change from one day to the next. It is ok to go back and forth between wanting time with loved ones and time by yourself. So much of the grieving process is personal and there is no “right” way. Friends with the best of intentions may invite you to multiple activities. Know that you can attend those events even if you aren’t in a “cheery” mood. Also, know you are allowed to decline and take time to be alone. Grief can be a difficult balance between feeling your feelings and coping with healthy, temporary distractions. It is ok if you don’t always get that balance just right.
4. Consider the 3 C’s: Choose, Communicate and Compromise. Dr. Kenneth Doka, grief expert, encourages remembering you have the choice to attend, or not, a holiday activity. If you decide it is too much to attend the traditional holiday concert you did when your loved one was here, communicate this decision. Sometimes this choice may be in opposition with the choice of another loved one who is also grieving. The communication of how you are feeling is important and leads to opportunities for all involved to feel heard and respected.
5. Release guilt and give permission for joy. The holidays are often filled with traditions and it can feel strange and wrong to continue when loved ones are no longer with you. Some people may feel guilty for decorating and continuing to embrace traditions while others may feel guilty if they do not celebrate their loved one’s most cherished traditions. It may be helpful to ask yourself what the loved one you miss would want. Most often, our loved ones want you to carry on, celebrate, and try to find peace or happiness in this moment. Remind yourself that you are allowed to feel happy. You can feel both happy for this moment while also feeling the sadness of the loss simultaneously. Be gentle with yourself.
For more information about grief and loss, read our blog post on Grieving during COVID-19.
Written by Counselors in Gainesville, Florida: Amelia Hartman, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Jen Martin, Psychologist