For many people, the holiday season is a special time of year marked by festive celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. It’s a time to look ahead with excitement to the approaching New Year. For those struggling with the death of a loved one, the holidays are a difficult time full of painful reminders that may magnify their sense of loss.
Holiday songs on the radio catch you in the car. Television commercials reflecting Norman Rockwell images of the season come into your living room. Neighbor’s homes are decked with lights and wreaths. Sounds and sights of the holidays may seem inescapable. Coping with grief at such a time seems discordant with the world around you. Feelings of loss tend to be intensified.
A suggestion for coping with grief during the holidays is to give yourself permission to do what’s comfortable. At a time of year often guided by tradition, find the way that feels right for you to make it through the season. Some people find it helpful to be with family and friends, emphasizing the familiar. Others may wish to avoid old traditions and try something different. Others will find new ways to acknowledge the season.
Ever since Mike was a young boy, Thanksgiving was a time to bring family, friends, and neighbors together for a feast. Card tables were set up in the living room, the picnic table was brought in from outside, every chair seemed to be full. The year after his death from lung cancer, his wife and kids just couldn’t find the strength to host another Thanksgiving event. That year, for the first time, they had a Thanksgiving meal at a local inn. It was smaller, more intimate, and has become a new tradition for them.
They gave themselves permission to do what seemed comfortable. While it seemed to go against family tradition, it actually provided the family with a special time to focus on memories of their father and the many Thanksgivings of the past.
Hospice professionals offer some additional suggestions for coping with the holidays:
Plan for the approaching holidays. This might be a difficult time for you. The additional stress may affect you emotionally, cognitively, and physically; this is a normal reaction. Be prepared and gentle to yourself. Recognize that the holidays might not be the same. Expecting everything to seem the same might lead to disappointment. Doing things a bit differently can acknowledge the change while preserving continuity with the past. Be careful not to isolate yourself. It’s all right to take time for yourself but don’t cut yourself off from the support of family and friends. The holidays may affect other family members. Talk over your plans and share your feelings. Respect other’s choices and needs, and compromise if necessary. Avoid additional stress. Decide what you really want to do, and what can be avoided. If you, or a loved one, are struggling with grief and loss, consider contacting your community hospice. Hospices have trained bereavement professionals on staff and may be able to offer some further suggestions or sources of support.