Grief and the Holidays

December 17, 2018
Decorating a tree

Sometimes the holidays don’t feel so…..special. For many, this season is a time to gather with family and friends and is chock full of love, joy, and celebration. 

However, if you are mourning a loved one, the holiday season can be anything but joyous. In fact, the holidays are often the most difficult of times for people who have experienced the death of a loved one. For those experiencing grief, this season can be a time of sadness and loss, of feeling unsettled and emptiness.

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, know that we at CCMS understand the mix of emotions you may be experiencing. Grief during the holidays is never easy, yet there are several strategies that can help you better manage your grief. It is our hope that the following suggestions provide you with some comfort and will make this holiday season more tolerable for you.

Friends hugging
  • Express Yourself – Suppressing your feelings and trying to act as if you’re “okay” won’t help make the pain go away. In fact, it is often more helpful to talk about your loved one and to share your thoughts and feelings.  It’s perfectly fine to share memories about the person and to acknowledge that you miss them.
  • Be Gentle with Yourself – You may feel tired or emotionally drained, or perhaps your patience will be at a minimum. You may not feel very tolerant of other people’s exuberance or just not up for celebrating. Whatever you’re feeling, be accepting of yourself and know that you don’t have to function at 100%. Your body and mind are telling you that you need time to heal, so don’t push yourself to behave like normal.
writing in a notebook
  • Plan Ahead – Don’t over-extend yourself; it is okay to not attend events or to opt for quiet time for yourself. “Keeping busy” rarely works as a distraction, and instead may just add to your stress and frustration. Surround yourself with people who provide support and acceptance. Remember that you need to do what is right for you – some people may push you or tell you what they think you should do. While well-meaning, such directions may not be best for you; you are the one who should decide what and how you want to participate.
  • Eliminate Unnecessary Stressors – For many people who are mourning, anxiety can be the most difficult part of the holidays. By having a detailed plan for your days and weeks, you won’t have to worry about stressing how you will spend your days or where you have to go next. Also, make sure to create an escape plan as well. Drive yourself to holiday events or go with a friend that will take you home when you want to leave, helping you feel trapped at the function.
Image of present in front of tree
  • Consider Traditions – As you enter this new chapter in your life, don’t be afraid to get rid of old traditions and start new ones. This is a unique opportunity to get creative and find a new way to celebrate the holidays that makes you feel  comfortable, including keeping established traditions or adding new ones. For example, after the death of a spouse, many widowers will spend the holidays staying with family members. Others will use the time to travel and see the world. You may want to incorporate some way to honor your loved one – perhaps through the lighting of a candle or sharing a favorite memory, maybe looking through a photo album or making a donation in their name. Determine how you would like to make such memories special.
  • Focus on What You Can Control – Many aspects are beyond your control, such as hearing holiday music while shopping or during your normal day. Since you can’t escape such triggers, think about how you might be prepared. For instance, keep a pair of headphones in your pocket so you can listen to something else if Christmas music is bothering you. Rather than shopping at the mall, make purchases online instead. There are many ways you can lessen the heartache you might feel. By focusing on the things you can control, you’ll be better able to manage your grief and make it through the holidays.
person on phone
  • Reach Out for Help – If you need support, there are numerous hotlines available 24/7; or perhaps you’d prefer to meet with a therapist or counselor who can offer in-person encouragement. Don’t wait to reach out to such resources whenever you need them.

As you navigate through your grief during the holidays and beyond, may your memories and the spirit of the holidays bring you peace and comfort.