Grief and the holidays

12 Days of Caring

Grief is difficult at any time of the year. For many, the loss of a loved one is keenly felt during the holidays. The following are some thoughts on finding balance and care as you cope with grief and the holidays.

1. Make a Plan

Plan what activities you want to take part in and who you want to spend time with throughout the holidays. Plan ahead for holiday situations like meals, parties, shopping, greetings and decorating. Taking the time to plan what your holiday will look like and how to react can alleviate extra stress when grieving.

2. Communicate Your Plan

It is important to let others know your choices – especially those who will be affected by them. Have your loved ones decide what each of you want to do for the holiday season and do your best to find space for compromise.

3. Tell Others Your Needs

Ask for what you need. Other people around you won’t know how to help you and respect your journey unless you tell them. For example, would you prefer privacy over the holidays, or to be surrounded by people? Communicate this type of information to your loved ones so they can provide the support you will need.

4. Honour Your Rituals & Traditions

Exercise caution around activities and traditions. Some people prefer to follow family traditions, while others decide to change them. Remember, what you choose to do this year can always be changed another year.

5. Remembering and Creating New Rituals

Finding ways to recognize and acknowledge the loss of your loved one during the holidays may bring comfort, and focus your grief in a positive way. Some simple ways to honour the loss of a loved one can be to light a candle; place something meaningful on the tree; having a moment of silence during your holiday prayer or holiday toast; or simply just saying your loved one’s name and sharing a memory.

6. Set Boundaries & Limits

Create boundaries to ensure you do not give into the wishes of others who may pressure you to participate in activities that require too much of you. Set time limits on outings and events. Stick to your initial plan on how you will choose to celebrate the holidays. You know what is best for you.

7. Go at YOUR Pace

Tread placidly amid the holiday rush, and remember that you do not have to participate at anyone else’s pace but your own. Give yourself permission NOT to do things. Get lots of rest throughout the holidays. Events and social interactions can feel more tiring while grieving. Be gentle with yourself and don’t expect too much; honouring yourself, your needs, and your feelings, may be all you can manage right now.

8. Be Flexible

Learn to “play it by ear”. There is no concrete formula for learning to deal with loss. You are the authority on what is best for you, and your needs. Be prepared for feelings that may change day to day. What felt right one day, may not feel right the next. Be okay to say, “I have changed my mind”.

9. Just Skip It!

If celebrating the holidays feels too stressful perhaps this is the year to get away and change the scenery. Take a break this year! But before you decide to skip out on the holidays, consider if you could just simplify the season. And if you do skip, it is important to still make a plan. Decide if you want to see friends or family, go to a movie, drive to another city for dinner, or make another plan.

10. It’s Ok to Laugh!

Know that it is okay to have moments of joy as you gather with those you love. Give yourself permission to mourn and to dance as you find balance during the holidays. And remember to remind children it is okay to find joy in the holidays even after the death of a loved one. It is important that children can continue to be children.

11. Stop Apologizing

You do not have to feel guilty about your grief. The holidays can bring up very difficult memories and this should not create a feeling of shame. You are deeply missing your loved one, and you are emotionally fragile. Each time you apologize, you are basically sending yourself a message that you are doing something wrong.

12. Respect Others’ Journey Around You

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Appreciate the journey others’ travel while honouring your own. Don’t set expectations too high for yourself or other family members over the holidays. Know that you are where you need to be for you and avoid comparing your grief to others. Honour your successes along your grief journey.

Dr. Kenneth Doka

We need to find balance in what will change and what will stay the same. Acknowledge what we can do and what we cannot do.