Grief During the Holiday Season

Excerpts from a magazine article by Alan Wolfelt were summarized by Margaret Verschuur.
For people who have experienced the death of someone they love, holidays can be particularly difficult. What is intended to be a time of joy, family togetherness, and thankfulness instead brings feelings of sadness, loss, and emptiness.
When someone you love dies, the full sense of this loss doesn’t occur immediately. During times of celebration, the absence of the person that has been a vital part of your life may be felt even more keenly with the reminder of how much has changed. People around you may try to distract you from these sad feelings, while your need is to have them acknowledged. Here are a few suggestions to help you cope with grief during the holiday season.
Include the person’s name who has died in your conversations. Consider burning a candle in their honour or setting a chair for them at the table. Talk about your feelings. Surround yourself with people you find supportive and comforting. Holidays stimulate us to think of times past. Share your reflections with those who care about you. If your memories bring laughter, let yourself smile. If sadness, let yourself cry. Accept and acknowledge both your grief and your gratitude.
Don’t expect too much of yourself. Although isolation isn’t healthy, respect your need to have down time. Your feelings of loss will probably leave you feeling fatigued and your energy level will naturally slow. Be tolerant of your inability to function at optimum levels during the holidays.
Plan ahead and do what is right for you. Do not over-extend or over-commit. Decide which family traditions you want to maintain and what new ones you may want to start. It may be a good idea to discuss your holiday plans with a trusted friend, as this often brings clarity to what it is you want. Structuring your time tends to help you anticipate your needs rather than just letting things happen and being swept away. Consider attending a holiday service that nurtures your spirit.
Use this occasion to gain insight on what brings you a sense of meaning and purpose. The death of someone close to you can cause you to question or more strongly embrace long held beliefs. Holidays can heighten feelings and provide a pause. This can be an opportunity to take an inventory of your life as it relates to the past, present and future.
As humans, we have been blessed with the capacity to give and receive love, and are forever changed by the experience of death in our lives. We don’t ‘get over’ our grief, but work to reconcile ourselves to living with it. Holidays naturally bring a resurgence of intense feelings of loss and sadness. Rather than attempting to repress or deny them during this time, it is healthier to acknowledge and lean into them.