Loss is a common everyday fact of life. Even more so, are the emotions and reactions that follow them. But with the holidays approaching, it seems our grief gets amplified and worse. TV commercials make it appear everyone is happy and cheery during the Holidays. Festive dinners, cocktail parties, shopping sprees, and holiday decorations focus on families and our loved ones. Bing Crosby and Andy Williams sing about mistletoe, chestnuts roasting, and having a holly jolly Christmas. The holidays are deeply rooted with tradition. But all this implied cheer and hustle and bustle sets us up for frustration, anxiety, and disappointment when we can’t keep up with the jovial season. Then we begin to dread this time of year and feel, “I just can’t wait until the holidays are over”. It simply becomes an extremely stressful time. And that’s for the average person! For those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, it’s magnified and paralyzing. Who cuts the turkey this year? Do you still set up a tree when you’re not feeling joyful? Do we still send out the Christmas card when our loved one isn’t here any more? Why should I go to church services when everyone is just going to come up to me saying they’re sorry? This time has to be terrifying! There’s no sugar coating it. There’s no magic potion or spell that can stop the pain. But, I’m here to tell you that you will survive and can enjoy time with family and friends. Time doesn’t heal! You must know that. What we do with time and our grief is how we heal.
Set realistic expectations for yourself. Remind yourself that this year is different.
Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Share your plans with family and friends and let them know of any intended changes in holiday routine.
Try to avoid “canceling” the holiday despite the temptation. It is OK to avoid some circumstances that you don’t feel ready to handle, but don’t isolate yourself. Allow yourself some time for solitude, remembering and grieving, but balance it with planned activities with others.
Allow yourself to feel joy, sadness, and anger – allow yourself to grieve. It is important to recognize that every family member has his/her own unique grief experience and may have different needs related to celebrating the holidays. There is no right or wrong. Experiencing joy and laughter does not mean you have forgotten your loved one.
Draw comfort from doing for others. Consider giving a donation or gift in memory of your loved one. Invite a guest who might otherwise be alone for the holidays. Adopt a needy family during the holiday season.
Take care of yourself. Avoid using alcohol to self-medicate your mood. Try to avoid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Physical exercise is often an antidote for depression. Writing in a journal can be a good outlet for your grief.
Create a new tradition or ritual that accommodates your current situation. Some people find comfort in the old traditions. Others find them unbearably painful. Discuss with your family the activities you want to include or exclude this year. Some examples of new rituals and traditions include:
- Create a memory box. You could fill it with photos of your loved one or written memory notes from family members and friends. Young children could include their drawings in the memory box.
- Make a decorative quilt using favorite colors, symbols or images that remind you of the person who died.
- Light a candle in honor of your absent loved one.
- Put a bouquet of flowers on your holiday table in memory of your loved one.
- Visit the cemetery and decorate the memorial site with holiday decorations.
- Have a moment of silence during a holiday toast to honor your loved one.
- Place a commemorative ornament on the Christmas tree.
- Play your loved one’s favorite music or favorite game.
- Plan a meal with your loved ones’ favorite foods.
The most important thing to remember is there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season after the death of a loved one, and that the best way to cope with that first holiday season is to plan ahead, get support from others and take it easy.
O’Connell’s offer Grief and The Holidays program.
We also are extending an invitation to our Grief and The Holidays Annual program. Please join us at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 13, 2018 at O’Connell Family Funeral Home, 520 S. 11th Street, Hudson. Refreshments will be served. There is no fee to attend, but a donation to the local food shelf would be appreciated. This year’s speaker will be Certified Funeral Celebrant and Grief Specialist, Kathleen Helgeson, MA, CFLE. Kathleen will speak of the natural process of grief, coping strategies, and helpful insights to rely on for managing grief, which can strengthen us in the days ahead. A memorial candle lighting honoring your loved one will be included in our time together.