Six Steps to Dealing with Grief During the Holidays

| By Jodi Horton

paper dollsThe holidays are supposed to be joyful and cheery, filled with family and friends. Grief does not fit with this picture. The losses that we experience after the death of a loved one thrust us into a painful, difficult, lonely journey. Even if we feel we are moving forward and mourning with some sense of normalcy, it is as if our journey is stalled at the holidays. Here are six steps that can help us through this time.

1. Be aware of what is happening. Don’t avoid the holidays, but pay attention to the experience happening around you and most importantly, in you. Just as as importantly, don’t try and do the holidays as if what is happening to you is not happening. To try and pretend that everything is the same as in the past can be harmful.

The feelings at this time are often very intense, even greater than you may expect. Don’t hide from your feelings. Let yourself cry if you feel like crying; laugh if you feel like laughing; yell if you feel like yelling. Feel your feelings and know they are OK, and don’t let other people tell you what you should or shouldn’t feel.

2. Plan for the journey through the holidays. Even over-plan your time. Prepare in advance for what you think may be a stressful time. The past with all of its memories will propel itself into your experience. There will be times of panic when you are not sure what to do. Be willing to talk with others–your family or a close friend or a counselor and let them hear your plans. Be flexible with your plans. Give yourself the leeway to change them.

3. Don’t go alone during this time. Seek out the company of others who support you. Let this company be those who will talk about your loved one, who will acknowledge the absence and will let you express your feelings, tell your stories, share the memories and who will be willing to express their own. Ask for what you want. This is often hard to do, but your willingness to be open with your needs and wants will help you and others around you to be of support.

4. Take a new path that is different from what you traveled in past holidays. You do not have to do the same things that you have always done to honor your loved one. Seek out new ways of doing past traditions. Do something different. Reflect on the past traditions and rituals. There may be some that you want to continue and have the energy to do. The important thing is for you to be in charge of your decisions. It is not to make major changes during this time, but even small changes may help to make yourself comfortable on this new path.

5. Rest on the way lest you are physically worn out by the holidays. Be gentle with yourself. Accept your physical limitations and that the energy it takes to mourn is still a part of this time. Don’t get caught up in hectic holiday activities. Get plenty of sleep, and take breaks away from the overstimulation of these days. Take a walk or take a nap and remember to breathe.

6. Be ready to be surprised by what may come your way. It is possible you will be surprised by the pain of the holiday journey. But it is just as likely that you will be surprised by the small bits of joy that creep in when you least expect it: the surprise telephone call or note from an unexpected source or an unanticipated invitation. Be ready for those surprising moments of delight because you never know when they will come.

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