Coping with grief during the holidays, whether from loss or illness of a loved one in hospice care, can turn a typically warm and joyous time into a difficult and draining time. The holiday season is steeped in memories of years past and can make us feel sad when we remember fond times with our loved ones. While this time may not be easy, there are some steps that you can take to make it more manageable.
Acknowledgement – Accept the difficulty, not the guilt.
Grief is the process of healing, but it is just that: a process. Acknowledging and accepting from the beginning that this time will be difficult is one of the most helpful things you can do. The feelings of sadness are natural and should be experienced in order to pave the way for healing. Numbing the pain, through alcohol or other means, can be tempting but ultimately prolongs real healing.
Sometimes, the bereaved may feel guilty by their sadness during what is typically a happy time. Allow yourself to accept that this is a difficult time and it is different from previous holidays. Anticipating holiday events can be just as difficult as the events themselves, so face this time directly and decide how you will personally approach this season. While these times will be painful (especially if it is the first year without your loved one), learning to manage them is an important milestone for grief.
Have boundaries and control only what you can control
However you approach this season, let it be the way that you choose to approach it. Don’t let guilt or tradition make you feel obligated to do things a certain way. While it may be tempting to skip the holidays altogether, this will not alleviate the grief and will deprive you of warm and healing human connection.
This does not mean that you must do things the same way you have in the past. You may find it helpful to skip some of the “holiday rush” by doing shopping online, letting others do the hosting or cooking, etc. Try to stay physically active as well, since exercise is a very helpful remedy for depression. Additionally, you may find a good outlet through journaling, writing and other forms of expression.
Honor their memory but create new traditions
While the holidays are steeped in tradition, try to modify them to serve the memory of your loved one while including new loved ones. Don’t pretend everything is the same when it isn’t. Acknowledging the absence allows others to express their feelings and allows for more openness between everyone.
Including new family and friends into existing or past traditions can help to bridge the gap between holidays past and holidays present. You may also want to start a completely new tradition. Doing something different can honor your lost loved one’s memory for years to come, just don’t forget to include others that you care for.
Do for others
It is the season of giving, but you might not feel like it. Try to be kind in giving or doing for others anyway and you may find yourself surprised by how richly rewarded you feel despite your grief. Consider doing so in honor of your loved one. Try inviting someone new or in need to your holiday gatherings. If you’re up for it, volunteering may help keep you engaged and give you another outlet for the love and kindness you shared with your loved one.
Receive from others – Ask for help
Just because it is the season of giving doesn’t mean you shouldn’t receive. Time spent with others who love and support can be the best gift you’ve ever gotten. Remember, it’s okay to be sad so there is no need to feel guilty. Don’t forget to let family and friends know of your new or changed plans and activities for the holidays.
While you don’t want to isolate yourself, it is important to find some quiet time to reflect and remember but don’t let that outbalance the time spent with others who care for you. You may also find benefit from support groups which can be very effective and healthy around this time.
This season will pass soon enough so while you are grieving, try to focus on the good memories you have while creating new ones.
Happy Holidays from Bridgeway Hospice