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When Grief During the Holidays Is New

As we officially enter the holiday season those who grieve enter into a quagmire of emotions.

Is it okay to experience joy when your loved one is dead?

Can you be grateful for the time you had with your loved one while being overwhelmed with missing that person?

Will you give yourself permission to join in the festivities of the season or not gather with family and friends depending on how you feel in the moment?

For those in their first season, you may be surprised at how challenging this time of year may be. Friends and family may or may not be aware of what this may be like for you. Because holidays are more intense, and hold more expectations than other times in the year, they are a set-up for those who grieve. Holidays tend to be family time. You would think it should mean that family will be around supporting each other and remembering holidays past and those no longer present. Some will do it well. Others will deny there’s someone missing, while the atmosphere will be like there is an elephant in the room, but everybody’s pretending that nothing special is going on.

People will mean well. But their tendency may be to want to fix you. They want the old you back. They want you to be happy in order to reduce their discomfort. But there is no fixing a broken heart. Your heart will never again be without blemish. The scar from your sorrow will remain, and the healing that you will go through will make you a different person. That’s not a bad thing. But it’s helpful to know that part of you will be changing.

To simplify the holidays it may be helpful to assess just what is important to you. Here are a few questions to ask yourself about the holidays:

  1. What kind of celebration do I want to have this year?
  2. Do I really have to put up all those decorations?
  3. Can meals be more simply prepared and be just as filling with a few less calories?
  4. Who is it important for me to see and visit with during the holidays?
  5. Who makes the rules about who I must give presents to and how much I must spend?
  6. Must I attend every event that I am invited to during the holiday season?
  7. Can I give myself permission to create some new traditions?
  8. Can I believe that people are coming to visit me and that they are not there to check on my housecleaning abilities or lack thereof?
  9. Can I be kind to myself and plan some quiet times during the holidays to provide myself with enough rest?
  10. What does this time of year mean to me personally and how do I wish to celebrate it. For example, will I attend or not attend church services, etc.?
  11. What traditions do I want to hold onto and which are important to others in my family?
  12. Am I willing to let others know what will help me feel safe at gatherings and to ask what their needs may be?
  13. What rituals could I create around the holidays to help me remember my loved one?

There is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays. Set out with the intention to do the best you can, given the circumstances. Whether you stick to old family traditions or change the pattern, it’s all OK. You will not be able to please everyone. Next year you may have more energy and more interest in participating in holiday routines than you do now. This year you may have to figure out how to get through the season and not set yourself up for what you’re not ready for. Try to recognize that the holiday is just another day of the year filled with all sorts of activities, not just dreaded memories.

The staff at Grief Watch hope for a soft holiday season for you… one that allows you to just be in the moment, appreciating memories of holidays past, and being grateful for those who can hope for you when you yourself can’t experience hope.

By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.

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