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Coping With Loss Over The Holidays

(Created December 14, 2015)

Holidays are celebratory times spent or shared with loved ones. Since holidays involve spending time with those we love the most, if you’ve lost someone, it can be a difficult time of the year. When you have lost someone special, your world loses its celebratory qualities. Holidays only magnify the loss. The sadness feels sadder and the loneliness goes deeper. Holidays can bring sadness, loss, and emptiness rather than being times of family togetherness and sharing. Your need for emotional support or compassion from others may be the greatest during the holidays. Pretending you don’t hurt and or it is not a harder time of the year may just not the truth for you.  Rather than avoiding the feelings of grief, you need to deal with them. Upon reflection, you may find that it is not the grief you want to avoid, it is the pain. Grief is the way out of the pain. There are a number of ways to incorporate your loved one and your loss into the holidays.Grief is our internal feelings and mourning is our external expressions, or how you physically present to others. Just remember, you can and will get through the holidays.

As with many things in life, no simple guidelines exist that will take away the hurt you are feeling. I hope, however, the following suggestions will help you better cope with your grief during this joyful, yet painful, time of the year. During this time of the year, self-nurture and self-care is essential.  Please remember to practice self-compassion as you continue to heal.

I thought it might be helpful to categorize some possible coping strategies according to: 1) Coping on the day of the aniversary or holiday celebration, 2) Coping over the holiday season or a difficult period of time, and lastly 3) Coping skills for personal growth, transformation, and healing.  


Coping On The Day:  Here are some ideas that may help you better manage the day of the celebration:

Be flexible and always have alternative plans. You can go to the holday dinner or event but, if it doesn’t feel right, you already have another plan ready.  Your alternative plan may involve going to the movies  or a special place you went to together.  Many people find that when they have alternative plans in place, just knowing it is there is another plan is enough. 

 

If the holiday celebration creates to much stress and becomes totally overwhelmeing you can cancel the holiday all together. Yes, you can cancel your holiday plans. If you are going through the motions and feeling nothing, cancel them. Take a year off. Holidays are perpetual and come around yearly... They will come around again. For others, staying involved with the holidays is a symbol of life continuing....moving on.

Do things differently, try doing things over the holidays in a new way. Grief has a unique way of giving us the permission to really evaluate what parts of the holidays works for us and what parts don't.. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to cope with the holidays in grief. Decide what is right for you and do it. You always have every right to change your mind. Some friends and family members may feel helpless and not know how to help you through the holidays and.... you may not either.

It is very natural to feel you may never enjoy the holidays again. They will never be the same as they were. However, in time, you will be able to find meaning again in the celebratory holiday traditions. Even without grief, our friends and relatives often think they know how our holidays should look, what “the family” should and shouldn’t do. As always, you have permission to say "no, no, no" instead of "ho ho ho."

Alternately, It is okay to enjoy yourself.. It’s not uncommon to have a whole lot of different feelings, like sadness, guilt or excitement. Getting together with family and close friends can be a chance to remember the good times with the person who’s died, and it’s okay to relax and have a laugh. Having fun is not necessarily a sign that you miss that person any less.

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  • Coping over the holiday season: Some helpful ways to cope over difficult or prolonged periods of time.

  • First and foremost, allow yourelf to be sad.  Holidays might have been a time you spent with someone you’ve lost. It’s normal to feel sad that this person is no longer with you. It may help to take some time out for yourself to remember the person you love. 

  • Find a quiet spot to remember all the good things about the person;
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  • Do something that you used to do with that person, create new memores and "rituals"
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  • Write a letter to the person; journaling your feelings, or write a healing Good-Bye Letter. 
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    Do a visual imagery excercise such as The Emotional Museum Tour. The emotional museum visually represents perfectly framed pictures in our minds of good memories. Visual imagery, or creating a peaceful scene, is a way to direct your thoughts through guiding your imagination into relaxed states.  Visual imagery can be helpful to reduce stress, anxiety, sadness while evoking good or positive memories for healing.  
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  • Revisit a favorite spot that you shared;  You may find it helpful to take items you hold sacred with to that "special spot" to reflect and heal.
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Light a candle at home or in a special place in honor of your loved one

Share some of the memories or a favorite story with others who were also close to the loved one who has died. Perhaps you can have everyone around you  tell a funny story about your loved one. Oftentimes, by telling/sharing our stories the pain becomes less and less

  • In the era of social media and technology, you may prefer to create an online tribute or chat online about them. Writng and journal can be healing. .
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If you are a spiritual person, you may want to remember them in a prayer in your place of worship.
 

Coping for Personal Transformation, Growth,  and Healing: Being aware of your physical limitations and emotional  resources.

Let yourself grieve. You're grieving, so let yourself feel the sadness. Grief is a process and must be honored. If you need to excuse yourself from family gatherings to have a cry in the bathroom, do so. Grief takes up energy and will leave you exhausted. Stifling the grief takes up even more energy and will leave you stressed and depleted, so let your pain find its expression and take time to rest.

Look after yourself.  This might be a tough time for you, so remember to take care of yourself. Avoid making major decisions until after holidays are over. If possible, treat yourself to something you enjoy doing. 


Breathe.  Never underestimate the calming power of a low, deep breath with a long, exhale. Taking a deep breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming device in our bodies). Try taking a deep breath every time you wash your hands, leave your house, take a nap, or go to bed.

Engage in physical activities to relieve stress and tension.  These may include activites such as swimming, jogging, taking a walk, and /or playing a sport.

Incorporate body work in your life.  Get a massage.  Many researchers believe that an "informed touch" provides physiological soothing; it can be cathartic, and healing.


Avoid bottling up your feelings. Getting stuff off your chest is important. Tension can build up if you keep your feelings to yourself, and finding a way to get it out can help you feel better. You may want to talk to someone, write your thoughts down, draw, punch some pillows, or cry. Tears are natural and healhty when healing.

Feelings of loss will probably leave you fatigued.  Your low energy level may naturally slow you down.  Respect what your body and mind are telling you.  And lower your own expectations about being at your peak during the holiday season.

  • Identify those friends and relatives who understand that the holiday season can increase your sense of loss and who will allow you to talk openly about your feelings.  Find those persons who encourage you to be yourself and accept your feelings—both happy and sad.  We all need help at certain times in our lives.

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  • Healing: Minfulness and Acceptance

    Accept death as a part of life. All things evolve.  Renew your resources for living. Spend time thinking about the meaning and purpose of your life.  The death of someone loved created opportunities for taking inventory of your life— past, presen,t and future.  The combination of a holiday and a loss naturally results in looking inward and assessing your life.  Make the best use of this time to define the positive things in life that surround you.

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