Grief Through the Holidays

December 17, 2020

It’s the most wonderful time of the year; according to the song by Andy Williams anyways. Yes, this is the time of year where things are a little brighter and more hopeful; people in general seem a little kinder and more festive. How could one not be happier with that?

Some that could attest to the holidays being the best time of year though, are people who have had a loved one die. When someone you care about in your world has died and you’re grieving them, the holidays are not always all they are made out to be. In fact, it can be an all out struggle. Those moments that many people are enjoying such as decorating the tree, holiday parties, watching the holiday classics or attending various faith based services; all of a sudden can be sheer torment as they serve as a constant reminder your person is not physically there to partake in these activities with you. Furthermore, when you’re grieving it can be hard enough to muster up enough energy to do the day to day necessities of life, let alone partake in the jolliness of the season. For some, the pain of the holidays can be enough to make one want to pack their bags and jet off to a far away isolated island.

No matter what you do during the holidays, it won’t fix your grief and how you are feeling. That being said there are some strategies you can utilize to help make this time of year more bearable, and maybe even make it possible to experience some joy; something you deserve.

Address the elephant in the room:
Life is forever changed when someone we care about has died. Have a conversation about grief and the holidays with someone you feel comfortable with or someone that is supporting you. Talk about the changes and what that they mean to you.

Your thoughts and feelings are valid:
People are always allowed to feel how they feel, sometimes just need someone else to remind them that it’s okay to have them. It is more than okay to feel how you feel! There is set criteria for emotions and grief. The thing about grief is you will experience all sorts of different emotions, and at times can even feel good. Recognize and tell yourself that you are allowed to experience joy and sadness through the holidays, along with everything in between.

Celebrate the holidays…however you want:
Having expectations placed on you when you’re grieving can be tough, especially holiday expectations. If you want to celebrate the holidays like you would have when your loved one was alive, that is okay. If you choose to cancel Christmas while figuring out your new normal, also more than okay. Talk to someone you’re comfortable with or a support person/professional about what you would like over the holiday season and make a plan.

Boundaries are important:
Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is always important. The extra festive activities and social gatherings during the holidays can be exhausting. Take some time to identify your needs, wants, and what will make you uncomfortable during this time. Identifying these things will allow you to realize what you are, and are not, okay with and set personal boundaries that can be upheld and abided by. For example, you get yet another invitation for another party; if you don’t want to go then you have the right to decline the invitation. Do whatever feels best for you at that time. Even if you decide to go to the party but after half an hour have had enough, it is more than okay for you to leave. Your wellbeing is what is most important right now.

Explore different traditions:
Part of the difficulties individuals that are bereaved have surrounding the holidays is that there can be so many rituals and traditions they had with their person. Carrying out these rituals and traditions can feel foreign and awkward without your person. Sometimes implementing new traditions can help create new memories that aren’t tainted by grief. New traditions can also be done in a way that helps people incorporate their person into their holidays (such as lighting a candle at the table for them, or going around sharing your favourite holiday memories of them. However, if doing the same rituals and traditions brings you comfort and helps you feel connected to your person; then there is no need to change things.

Regardless the holidays are difficult while grieving; what is most important is that you are kind to yourself and that you take things at a pace you are comfortable with; so please take good care and all the best with the times that lay ahead.

By Colleen Risk, Bereavement Coordinator

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