As the weather changes and the holidays come nearer, many of us experience our grief in new ways. If this is your first holiday season since your death loss, or if your loved one died during the holidays, this time of year can be especially difficult for you. Many new emotions may creep up on you, or old emotions such as intense anger or sadness that you thought were over, may return. Do not get frustrated or angry with yourself or your grief process. This does not mean you are regressing in your grief journey. You are simply experiencing grief in a new way at a new time. Do not try to escape this experience, but try to move through it.
Here are some things that may be helpful for you on this journey onward.
You are not alone. Holidays can bring intense loneliness. A person whom you looked forward to celebrating this season with is no longer with you. You may feel isolated. This is normal. Remember that many others are experiencing the same thing during this season. Think about who you can reach out to for help. How can you help others feel they are not alone? Who else in your life has a recent death loss that you can reach out to for help and understanding?
Remember your loved one; do not try to forget them. Remembering is hard because it acknowledges the pain and the loss, but sometimes the effort to forget is even harder. What can you do to remember your loved one during this season? Can you light a candle in memory of him or her at your holiday dinner? Can you have a special display of pictures of him or her during this season? Can you help others in his or her memory? Can you write him or her a letter?
Keep some traditions, but do not expect “perfection.” The holidays never work out perfectly, and expecting an exceptional holiday after a death loss is stressful and overwhelming. What traditions does your family want to hold onto this year? What traditions can your family let go of for this year? What new traditions can you start in memory of your loved one? What traditions can you change or adapt?
Tell others when you need help. Whether it feels like it or not, you probably have many people around you who want to help. They just may not know how. Tell them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be honest with yourself and with those around you. If you know a situation will be especially difficult, have an escape plan in place and someone you can call for help.
Take care of your body. The holidays are a busy, stressful time of year. Add a death loss to this, and your body can easily get overwhelmed, sick, and exhausted. Take time for self-care. Get plenty of rest, exercise, and food. The better your body feels, the easier it will be for you to process your emotions.
Talk to your children, spouse, and other family members about how you are feeling and how they are feeling. Check in with them as much as possible. People process grief differently, and there is no “right way” to grieve. Although they may be reacting differently to the holidays, remember they are hurting as well. Remember that you are on the same team and support one another in your journey.
Give yourself the gift of time. Allow yourself to be sad. Allow yourself to be happy. Allow yourself to take it one moment at a time with no expectations.
As the holidays approach, take a deep breath, have a support system in place, and take it one day at a time.
-Mary Kathryn Nader, WARM Place Program Intern