Grieving during the holidays

The stretch from Thanksgiving through the New Year can bring up a lot of complex emotions, especially if a loved one has recently died.

As promised, here are some ideas for managing the holiday season if you’re grieving:

1. Adjust your expectations. Don’t attempt to take on your usual slate of holiday duties. Scale back. Slow down. Don’t send holiday cards if it seems too overwhelming. Skip events that you don’t feel like attending. Let go of any guilt that surfaces — people will understand. This is not to say that you should self-isolate if you find strength in being around others; just be honest with yourself, and try not to take on more than you can handle.

2. Ask for help. The people around you might be paralyzed, uncertain as to how they can show you they care. Reach out and make your needs known, if you can. Maybe you could use some help with holiday shopping, or you’d rather someone else host Christmas Eve dinner. If you feel uncomfortable making specific requests, you might talk with a close friend or family member who can delegate for you when people ask what they can do.

3. Reevaluate traditions. The very things that we love most about the holidays can lead to emotional anguish in the wake of a loved one’s death. It can be tricky to determine which is more painful: abandoning a tradition altogether, or continuing it without the loved one who has passed. Often times the best compromise is modifying a tradition in some way, or agreeing to put it on the “back burner” until next year. Make sure you talk these decisions through with your family so that there are no upsetting, spur-of-the-moment surprises.

4. Remember and honor. Creating a ritual for remembering your loved one is a step toward healing. You might make or buy a special ornament to hang on the Christmas tree, play a favorite carol, or say a prayer before a holiday meal in your loved one’s honor.

5. Keep in mind that everyone grieves differently. You might want to stay close to home for the holidays, while your child or spouse might suggest traveling out of town to get some space from the loss. You might seek out a grief support group; others may find solace in books, religious services, or solitude. The key is communication. Talk through what you need, what you can handle and what you can’t, and see if you can come to some agreement with other family and/or friends who are grieving. It may make sense to contact a therapist if you find you’re struggling to reconcile everyone’s preferences.

If you are looking for more resources, this article includes some book suggestions toward the end. If a friend or relative is grieving a loss and you’re unsure how to help, check this out.

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