People usually think of the holiday season as festive and joyful, but if you or someone you know has lost a loved one, this time may be lonely and painful. Even memories of happy events—traditional dishes you always prepare for holiday meals, favorite movies you watch, decorating you usually do together--can remind you of your loved one and bring sadness and longing. You may feel out of sorts and alone while everyone else seems to be celebrating. Bereavement can be a roller coaster of emotions at any time, but these feelings may be intensified during the holiday season.
Several experts on bereavement offer guidelines for those who are grieving, to help them make it through the holidays.
- Make choices about what you can do and want to do. Be with the people you want to be with, when you can. It may be helpful to remember the loved one in a special way, rather than trying to forget your times together. For instance, you can light a candle, prepare a favorite dish, or create a special memorial decoration or ornament. This not only honors the person you have lost but can “bring a positive focus to our grief” (Doka, 2006, p.1). However, if traditions are too painful, find other ways to celebrate. For example, instead of decorating a tree indoors, put out seed ornaments for birds (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2002). If it is too difficult to be at home, take a trip. Although these changes won’t do away with your grief, they may lessen the pain.
- Communicate with others about what you want and need to do. Talk with family members about how to mark the holidays. Let others know that you might not be able to do what you usually do, and change your plans if you need to. Tell others if you need a shoulder to cry on or time alone. Accept your feelings. Cry if you need to and let others know that they can express their feelings and memories too (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2002).
- Reach out to others and get the support you need. Sharing your grief may ease the pain. Many people find a support group helpful, or talk to someone they can trust. Appreciate your family members who are there for you and need you, too (Tatelbaum, 2006).
- Take care of yourself. Eat healthy food, get the rest you need, and exercise. All these health promotion strategies will not only help you feel better but will also help you cope with stress.
- Help someone else. Volunteer to help people in need—at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, in a school, or through your place of worship. Ask someone who is alone to join you for a meal or activity.
If you have lost a loved one, the holidays may be difficult, perhaps the most painful period of your grieving. However, these days and nights will pass, and you can survive.
Written by: Suzanna Smith, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Human Development
Doka, K. J. (2006). Three Cs of coping with the holidays. Hospice Foundation of America. Retrieved December 20, 2006.
Harvard Women’s Health Watch. (2002). Grief takes no holiday. Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 10(4), 31-33 [online version]. Retrieved November 6, 2006.
Sammons, M. B. (2006). How to cope when a loved one is gone or ill during the holidays. CarePagesNews, November.
Tatelbaum, J. (2006). Survival strategies for the holidays. Hospice Foundation of America. Retrieved December 20, 2006.