Dealing with Grief During the Holidays

Facing Grief During the Holidays

Cardinals have special meaning for me after losing my grandmother. Photo credit: Regan76 via Flickr

There are things that we don’t want to happen but have to accept, things we don’t want to know but have to learn, and people we can’t live without but have to let go.  ~Author Unknown

Holidays bring up the best and worst in our emotions. Okay, I’ll say it frankly, hurting during the holidays is gnarly…it simply sucks. Specifically, grief is a difficult emotion to face when “cheer” is attached to every song, card, and advertisement. In reality, no fewer people are hurting this time of year, yet it feels like we are given less space to be sad. It’s enough to make you want to punch an elf in the face. But don’t do that…unless it’s a big stuffed elf doll, then do it.

Painting on a fake smile won’t help, but there are a few tips on dealing with grief you may find useful. None will eliminate your sense of sadness, but they may ease the burden. I can tell you one thing for certain, you are NOT alone. There are empty seats at my table too. It hurts.

Here are my suggestions for navigating grief this holiday:

Don’t ignore or cancel the holiday – While there may be some events that will feel like too much at first, don’t isolate yourself completely. Instead, look for a balance of activities with others and quiet time for grieving. Gatherings with close friends would be a good choice right now. Each year, I decorate at least a small tree, even if I’m the only one in the house. My cats like knocking it over so that’s worth something too…

Reach out a helping hand – Helping others is a great way to battle emotional pain. To know you have made a difference in someone’s life, made them smile, is a beautiful feeling. I typically pick up some kind of holiday project, from photographing charity functions to collecting donations for the homeless. I also donate at least the value of one gift to an abused woman’s shelter. We add names to our holiday list all the time; why not add one more for charity?

Start a new tradition – Holidays without your loved one will not be the same, instead of striving for “normal” begin a tradition of recognizing their place in your heart. Set an extra place at the table, light a special candle, create a memorial spot on the mantel, or prepare a favorite dish. What matters is that the tradition that feels right for your relationship and family. My traditions include adding a cardinal ornament to the tree each year (in honor of my grandmother’s favorite bird) and cooking a big pot of my grandfather’s stew.

Care for yourself in a healthy way – In grief there is a temptation to want to bury or self medicate the pain by drinking alcohol, over-eating, or other behaviors that mask hurt. This may feel good for a moment, but will make things worse in the end. Instead, try adding some exercise or walking to your routine. Physical activity has been proven to elevate mood and will leave you healthier.

Prepare yourself for emotional surprises – Seriously, nothing I say here can brace you for the emotions that may come up. Simply accept that there is a good chance you will feel laid out at some point and will need support. Prepare by having the phone numbers for friends who are willing to listen, a pastor, therapist, or grief hotline, handy at all times. Gather these when you feel okay so that you don’t have to think when you’re unraveling emotionally. I didn’t plan on this last year and found myself hit with some childhood stuff. Luckily I found a support group online with several kind listeners.

When talking about grief, most people assume that it means someone has died. But we feel grief over other emotional losses too. I hope these tips help you during this difficult season, regardless of the type of grief you face. Have you found any other strategies I’ve missed? Please share so that we can all add them to our “toolbox.”




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