Grief Around the Holiday Season

Monday, November, 21, 2022

One of the best ways to make it through the holidays after a loss is to plan. Regardless of what you do, there is no way to avoid dealing with pain and sadness; no one can offer you a way around this. So as difficult as it is, we recommend you accept those parts of the holiday season that you know will be difficult.

Think about the elements that will be the hardest for you this holiday season; you can minimize stress and lessen the likelihood of being caught off guard by difficult situations. Try to form a plan with those you will spend the holidays with. Talking ahead of time will lessen your worries and anxieties and allow for discussion about supporting one another.

Here are a few tips to help you and your family plan ahead this season when grieving the loss of
someone special.

1. Identify which individuals you will be spending the holidays with. Who will be present for events, traditions, and celebrations?

It may be helpful to make a list of the individuals that you will be spending the holidays with this season. Oftentimes more than one person will be dealing with the same loss. If you spend the holidays alone or with people far removed from your loss, grab a journal or a notebook and complete your own plan.

2. If you decide to involve family and friends in making a plan, call a family meeting.

Plan a time to meet early so people can think, process, and plan. Try to have everyone present and if individuals can not make it utilize speakerphone or video chat. You could even start a private Facebook group, blog or email chain for group conversations and updates.

Don’t overlook the children. Even the youngest family members need to have a chance to express feelings and concerns. It is also good for children to feel heard.

3. Decide what to do about tradition.

Long standing rituals and traditions can be especially difficult the first holiday season without that special person. Allow each person to discuss what will be hardest about these identified moments. Brainstorm ways to make these elements of the holidays easier. Also discuss ways you can support one another during these times. In the end you may decide to keep the event or tradition the same, change it, or
skip it until next year.

4. Discuss roles and responsibilities.

Your loved one may have held several special roles and responsibilities during the holiday season. It is important to take a little time and make sure there aren’t any roles, big or small, that will need to be filled or changed. For example, who will plan the holiday meal, carve the turkey, or plan the holiday gift budget? Some people may not feel comfortable stepping into their deceased loved ones shoes to fill these roles. It is
best to respect their feeling and not push. Make sure the roles and responsibilities don’t fall too heavily on one person.

5. Finalize your plan.

You may need some time to think about the plan, so schedule a follow up time to finalize if needed. Brainstorm or discuss support needs you think you will have (i.e. I may need someone to help me decorate the tree) and discuss how you can offer support to others (i.e. I will help you buy the grandchildren gifts this year).

Let others know the things you just can’t muster up the energy to do this year, like shop for gifts or attend holiday parties. Small things can take a lot of energy when you are grieving so give each other permission to opt out of things. Make a plan to follow up with those who aren’t present.

6. Communicate with children affected by the loss.

The holidays are hard for children because although they are sad about the loss, they still may be excited for the same reasons we all were as children. Let them know they don’t need to feel guilty about enjoying themselves. Ask them to let you know if they start to feel sad. Make a special code word they can use if they need a break or some space.

7. If you haven’t already, take time to think about you and how you will take
care of yourself during the holidays.

Make a plan for how you will cope when things get really tough. Will you go to a support group, call a friend, go to church, exercise, journal, etc.? Give yourself permission to cry, even in public. Don’t feel bad when you find yourself sobbing in the middle of a department store because you saw a gift they would have liked or their favorite song came on over the loud speaker. Set aside time for self-care. Preventively schedule an hour here and there for ‘mental health’ time.

8. Find ways to incorporate your loved one in the holidays. This is the best way to feel close to your loved one and fill their absence. You may want to find at least one or two ways to incorporate your loved one in each tradition and event that you identified as potentially being difficult.




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