Family and togetherness are key themes around the holidays. And when a loved-one is missing from those gatherings and traditions, the holiday season can be especially difficult.
“The holidays can often serve as a stumbling block on the journey from grief to healing,” explains Janet Jaymin, Bereavement Manager at Faith Hospice. “The topic of grief is not often something anyone wants to talk about,” she goes on to say. “Especially at a time of year that for most, is a time of great joy and happiness.”
For anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved-one, the holidays can bring about intensified or renewed grief. You may become flooded with memories or find the carrying-out of past traditions to be overwhelming. With all of this in mind, we’ve worked with Janet to develop a list of ways to cope with grief this holiday season. In doing so, we hope to generate an increased level of empathy when helping a friend or family member through grief in this season.
“Depending on what someone’s relationship was to a person who has passed, the intensity of that loss will be felt differently,”
— Janet Jaymin, Bereavement Manager at Faith Hospice.
Why is recognizing grief around the holidays important?
Grief isn’t the same for everyone, nor is there a right or wrong way to cope—particularly around the holidays. “Depending on what someone’s relationship was to a person who has passed, the intensity of that loss will be felt differently,” Janet explains. For older generations, it may be a spouse, sibling, or close friend. For younger generations, it might be a parent or grandparent. Different relationships mean different memories, experiences, and traditions that were shared with that loved one. Because of this, grief can come about in a variety of ways. Accepting and understanding these truths is key, whether you’re coping yourself or are close to someone who is coping.
If you’re finding yourself struggling on your journey from grief to healing this holiday season, or know someone who is, here are 10 of Janet’s tips for coping:
1. Plan as much as you can
The holidays bring with them an increased pressure to attend parties or gatherings. This can be stressful for anyone, but for someone grieving a loss, it can cause an even greater level of anxiety. This is why it’s even more important to plan ahead regarding which events you’re going to attend. Trying to manage your grief is hard enough, overloading your schedule can only lead to more stress.
That leads us to number two.
2. It's OK to set boundaries
Protect yourself from gatherings you feel may be too much. You may fear anything from a specific song playing to seeing your loved one’s favorite dessert is going to cause you to be emotional in front of a large group of people. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking questions regarding who will be there, how long the event will last, etc. That way, if there are people you may not be ready to face or if you are worried about how long you’ll have to endure the event, this will allow you to be prepared or, simply to say, “no”—and that’s OK.
3. Drive yourself
To expand on number two, for the gatherings you decide to attend, it’s recommended you drive yourself. This way, should you find yourself in a situation that’s overwhelming or feel the need to leave, you’re not dependent on someone else’s schedule.
4. It's OK to need a break from tradition
If trying to carry-out past traditions you would’ve typically shared with your late loved-one is too painful, its OK to change things up. For example, if decorating the Christmas tree was always something you did with your spouse, instead maybe you put decorations up outside or help a friend decorate. It doesn’t mean you can’t go back to your tradition, you’re simply allowing the wound to heal—especially if it’s your first holiday without that loved-one.
5. If you’ve typically hosted, ask someone else
This goes back to the notion that managing your grief is hard enough on its own. Adding the planning of a party and preparation of a large meal can only lead to additional stress. If you typically have hosted for the holidays, try asking another family member to this year. Better yet? You could go out to eat at a restaurant instead. This takes the pressure off of one person to cook, clean, etc. and is an especially good option if you’re feeling guilty (even though you shouldn’t) about asking someone else.
6. Use your pain for the betterment of others
You’d be amazed how getting out to volunteer or giving to a cause can have incredibly healing effects. And It doesn’t have to be volunteering; perhaps you know someone who is alone this holiday season—an elderly person in your neighborhood or a person whose family lives far away. Try inviting them over or see if they’d want to do something together. Maybe the elderly woman down the street doesn’t put up decorations because her husband always did or her age no longer allows for her to do so (now you can combine elements of #4 as well). The point is, doing something good for someone else changes the mood and not only are you doing something good for yourself, you’re helping someone else in the process.
7. Honor your loved-one
For anyone sharing in the loss, coming together to share stories, lighting a candle in your loved-one’s memory, or playing a favorite song can offer healing—just because they’re gone, doesn’t mean you forget them or stop loving them.
8. Laughter really is the best medicine
Many coping with grief find themselves feeling guilty when they catch themselves laughing or feeling happy in the wake of a loved-one’s death. They’re thinking, “No, I should be sad.” Or, “If I appear happy, does that mean I’m not mourning my loved one enough?” However, it’s good for us to find joy or humor in times of grief. And what better way to incorporate honoring your loved-one than by sharing funny stories or fond memories with others sharing in the grief.
One of the best things you can do during this time is to take care of yourself. The holidays are busy and stressful enough, let alone trying to cope with your grief. Take time for yourself. Get your rest. Eat well. Get some fresh air and exercise. Treat yourself to a massage. Take that class you always wanted to try. Whatever it may be, now more than ever is a great time for you.
10. There’s no right or wrong way to cope
Wherever you are in your journey through grief, just remember that however you’re feeling is not only normal, but valid. Losing a loved-one directly leads to change in a person’s life and past traditions aren’t the same. For those who may know someone struggling with grief, it’s important to be mindful of what they’re going through and remember that grief appears in different ways. Everyone will experience grief at some point in their lifetime and the best thing we can all do is be understanding and support one other.
Need support in your journey through grief?
Faith Hospice offers counseling and guidance through a number of programs—from individual counseling to support groups—and invites you to join any of the support services that are appropriate for you.
For additional help through your journey through grief, contact the Faith Hospice Bereavement team at 616-235-5122 or visit our website at https://faithhospicecare.org/services/bereavement/