By Dr. Tali Berliner
“ Life tossed us up into the air, scattered us, and we all somehow found our way back. And we will do it again. And again.”Alexandra Bracken
Don’t you wish you could press pause on the grieving process during the holiday season? I remember wishing I could do just that during the first (and several) holiday season following the painful loss of a loved one in my life.
I recall being conflicted as there were times when I wanted to participate in the excitement and joy but simultaneously either didn’t want to participate at all or felt guilty for celebrating. That conflict still exists many years later.
Grief is complicated and unique for everyone. While accepting loss becomes easier over time, it is often something we carry with us forever.
Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.Vicki Harrison
Grief is always evolving and at times the feelings seem to be out of our control. Therefore, the ‘pause’ button does not exist and it is challenging to be in pain while there is so much joy all around you.
However, there are things you can do to help alleviate some of that conflict you may be experiencing. If you or someone you know are grieving during the holiday season, here are some helpful tips to help get through this potentially painful period of time.
How to Cope with Grief During the Holidays
Set Boundaries with Holiday Events
You can participate and not participate in whatever feels right for you. While there may be pressure to attend a holiday party, family gathering, holiday show—remember to check in with your wants and needs to identify your readiness.
It may be helpful to commit to something that sounds fun while reminding yourself that you don’t have to stay the entire time. It is also okay to opt-out of certain things altogether. Finding a balance between engaging and not pushing yourself is important.
Tune Into Your Grief Emotions
As mentioned above, grief does not take a back seat during the holidays and can often be magnified. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings and not avoid them.
You may experience both negative and positive feelings during the holidays while grieving and that is OK. Be kind to yourself and remember that all feelings can coexist. For example, I can miss that person and enjoy the holiday at the same time.
It may be tempting to numb out with drugs or alcohol during the holidays. Anticipating the difficult emotions and preparing ahead of time will help prevent negative consequences from occurring.
Plan Ahead to Fill Empty Holiday Roles
Loss often means that certain roles will need to be filled. It is important to think ahead (especially with children) to consider who will fill those vacated roles (e.g., Dad always dressed as Santa or Aunt always cut the turkey). Planning ahead can avoid unnecessary moments of grief and can help make the experiences more fluid and enjoyable.
Honor Old Traditions & Honor Memories
It can be helpful to continue with old traditions that existed in order to honor and celebrate the individuals who are no longer here. This is a helpful way to keep their memory present.
Create New Traditions
Creating new traditions can be healing for individuals who are grieving. Making new memories does not erase old memories. Remember, your loved one will want you to enjoy the holidays. Acknowledge, validate and then challenge any feelings of guilt that may arise in the process.
Making new memories does not erase old memories.
Identify Grief Coping Skills
Prior to the holiday season beginning, consider creating a list of go-to coping skills to use whether you are at home or at a social function. It will be handy when the grief hits you unexpectedly. Some examples of coping skills are deep breathing, taking a walk, journaling, listening to music, practicing yoga, and saying positive affirmations. Bonus: here are our recommended affirmations that are balanced and not overly positive.
Volunteer/Do Something Charitable
Helping others helps alleviate your sadness while bringing joy into someone else’s life who needs it. This is always a good idea. If you need ideas on how to give, check out this article by The Shine Project with 51 holiday service projects.
Ask For Help When Struggling with Grief
It is important to seek support from friends, family, coworkers and professionals if needed. Whether you have lost someone close to you or not, the holidays can bring up many complicated feelings. It’s completely normal and can be helpful to seek services from a therapist or psychologist.
The holiday season is not always as merry as we want it to be. It is normal to feel apprehensive about it and you are not alone in feeling that way. Please remember that there is no right or wrong way to approach the holiday season following the loss of a loved one. If you experience happiness, allow it to enter into your grief space and be present with the people around you. Be kind to yourself and try to take it one holiday party and one feeling at a time. Happy Holidays.