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Dealing with Grief during the Holidays

Many view the holidays as a time of fellowshipping with family, hugging the loved ones you haven’t seen in a while, and reunions with those we care for.  However, though we cherish and appreciate our loved ones who have traveled from near and far; our absent loved ones cannot cross the chasm of loss that looms before our tear filled eyes.  Our family reminds us of the blessings we have.  They encourage us to enjoy the holidays, however not realizing that what they now celebrate is what we cannot now enjoy.  We long to be a part of their happiness and remember the times we were able to enjoy the holidays in the same way as them.

So how do we survive the holidays after the death of someone we love, this is a painful issue that many of us face.  By all means, the holidays are supposed to be “family times” due to the unrealistic expectation that you should feel close to everyone.  However this time of year can increase the feeling of loneliness due to the absence of your deceased loved one more than any other time.  Though the pain seems as though it will never go away, there are some things to keep in mind to aid you in working through your grief during the holidays.

  • Remember there is no time limit on grief.  Often many ask, “how long am I going to feel this way?”  Everyone is different and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.  As time goes on you may have friends and family members make comment such as “You are still crying about that” or “appreciate the family you do have.”  Please remember that you can appreciate those around you and miss your deceased love one at the same time.  Don’t let others make you feel you have to choose.  Grief is a process.  There is no such thing as “getting over it.”  You never “get over it,” you only learn to live life without your loved one being physically present.
  • Create new traditions.  Sometimes, focusing on old traditions that were shared with loved ones can increase depression.  Ask your loved ones whether carrying on old traditions is helpful.  You all may decide to have Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas day.
  • Be aware that the holidays are filled with unrealistic expectations for intimacy, closeness, relaxation and joy for all people, not just those who are grieving.  Try not to buy into this.  Commercials and Store Ad’s will have you feeling guilty.  Recognize that you are allowed to grieve during this time.
  • Anticipation of pain at the holidays is always worse than the actual day.
  • Allow yourself to experience memories of past holidays spent with your deceased loved ones.  Talk about these memories with your family and friends.  This part of mourning is usually more intense during the holidays.  Avoiding feeling or talking about your feelings only prolongs the intense feelings associated with grief.
  • Expect sudden “grief attacks.”   We must decide how to get through each new day. Some days, getting out of bed may take all the energy we have. Trips to everyday places like the grocery store feel so different.
  • Anxiety is common in grief.  When loss shatters our world, anxiety is usually one of the results.  Our sense of control is gone. We feel helpless. We wonder what will happen next.  Anxiety is the natural result of grief.  We are limited beings. We can only handle so much stress, loss, and tragedy. The anxiety builds. Sooner or later, we begin to feel it. It slowly leaks, spurts out, or bursts forth in a flood.  Anxiety is a natural expression of our grief.
  • Having fun during the holidays does not mean you are betraying your loved one.  Many feel that if they are happy and/or enjoying the holidays then that means they are disrespecting their loved one.  Give yourself permission to feel joy as well as sadness when you have the need.
  • Let your tears and sadness come and go as need be.  Tears of sadness do not have to ruin the holiday.  If you allow yourself moments to cry, you will be surprised that you can actually go on until the next time you need to release your tears.

The loss of a loved one can seem to bring our worlds to a complete stop, it’s hard to see that life goes on and holidays and special occasions like anniversaries and birthdays will inevitably come.  We can prepare as best we can.  The difficult experience of working through our grief during the holidays can be a huge step in working through the grief process and healing.

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