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Preparing for the Holidays

Preparing for the Holidays

“When we are in the midst of grief, the last thing we may want to think about is the holidays. We may have little desire to participate. We may simply refuse to make plans, wishing the holidays would quickly, if not painlessly, pass.”

The holidays are tough when we are grieving a loss. Holidays are centering moments in our lives, full of memories. We remember the Thanksgiving the oven broke down, the Chanukah or Christmas gifts we received. It is very easy for our longing for someone we miss to become intense.

There are other reasons the holidays can be tough. We often see reminders – the perfect gift or a holiday card addressed to the person who died. They are stressful and busy times. This stress is difficult to bear when coping with grief. We might feel so out of step with the season. Our sadness seems magnified against the joy of others. Finally, in the midst of winter, we may feel more isolated and alone, the deepening darkness a reflection of our inner being.

 That is why it is essential to plan. We need not spend a great deal of time thinking of holiday menus or planning the perfect gift or card. I am speaking of something more important – planning how to get through the holidays.

 The danger is drift. It is easy in the stressful times of the holidays to surrender our decision making to well-meaning others, like the sister-in-law who will not take no for an answer. The result is that we find ourselves drifting into activities that are tiring, painful, or that don’t meet our needs.

 The first thing we need to do is to choose. What activities do we really want to do? What activities do we need to do? What doesn’t need to be done this year? We might decide to not send cards or host a dinner.

 As for the activities we choose, we must find the best way to do them, consistent with our own needs. For example, if we decide to give gifts, we might consider how we wish to do this. Do we simply send a check, shop from the Internet or a catalog, or shop with a friend?

 With whom do we wish to spend the holidays? Who can be present with us as we grieve? Who will understand that we may not be our usual selves?

 Sometimes it is a choice not to make a choice. Grief is often a roller-coaster experience, full of ups and downs. Grace knew that. So she decided that she would keep her options open until that very morning. She knew she would spend some time with her in-laws, but would wait until that day to see where she was on that roller coaster before committing to a particular schedule. We need to remember to remain flexible. For Tom, he decided to take his own car so he could leave when he was ready, rather than be obligated to wait for others.

 We need, too, to recognize the individuality of grief. For some of us, the holidays are difficult and stressful. There may be others of us who welcome the diversion and find comfort in the bustle of activity. Still others of us might find ourselves torn between both feelings. It is the range of reactions that makes our grief unique.

 Once we have made our choices, we should communicate those decisions to others. Part of that communication is listening to others. That may add a third “C” to our holiday plans – compromise.

 The holidays are approaching so we need to plan. But we may want to remember this recipe –

 Choose, Communicate and Compromise.


By Kenneth J. Doka, PhD, MDiv, Sr. Consultant to HFA; professor of gerontology at the College of New Rochelle in New York.

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