Throughout the course of our lives, we will inevitably experience loss, and naturally, grief is a part of the process. Both loss and grief are not only predictable, but likely to occur repeatedly throughout the course of the lives of all individuals. The loss of a significant person will forever change those affected, and often how individuals and families spend the holidays and celebrate traditions. Typically, Thanksgiving kicks off the season with excitement and joy. However, it can be immensely saddening and difficult to move forth with cheer and tradition for those who have experienced a loss during this time of year. Holidays and anniversaries remind us of the moments we had and how much our lives have changed since.
On November 14, 2006 I lost my cousin (and three family members on her father’s side) to a drunk driving accident. In 2010, I lost my grandfather two days before Thanksgiving after a long battle with complicated health issues. As I was coming to accept the finality of losing two people- helplessness, denial, and anger re-surfaced all of over again. Most recently, I lost a childhood friend on the anniversary of my cousin’s passing. Now as I approach the season, I do so with less “holiday cheer” and more symptoms of grief. Despite the losses, however, I have come to deeply appreciate those who remain a constant in my life; and continue to develop ways to get through as best as my spirit allows. I have found the strategies and coping skills below to be helpful for managing grief during the holiday season:
It’s important to acknowledge how you may feel throughout the season and upcoming holidays. There are several stages of grief that you may exit and re-enter at any given moment. It is totally appropriate to set realistic expectations on commitments to holiday parties. This time of year will be different without your loved one. To honor their presence, create a new tradition–you can use candles, or, a new ornament, or engage in activities that remind you of them, such as making their favorite dish. Avoid cancelling the holiday completely, but consider participating in smaller gatherings with close friends and family.
“Surround yourself with only the people who are going to lift you up.” – Oprah
If you’re blessed to have a support system you can count on, then you’ll receive a generous amount during this time. Lift your spirits by being surrounded by genuine people and accept as much support as you need. Don’t be afraid to ask for it from those you trust. Also, you may find comfort in doing for and giving to others- pick a community to volunteer in, donate your loved ones gently used clothing, or consider adopting a child for Christmas.
Take Care of Yourself.
Grief is a universal experience that affects individuals differently. When deemed appropriate, begin to build a new routine that caters to your emotional healing. Some techniques to boost your mood and esteem include; proper rest, exercise, or creative activities like painting or journaling. If you are having a difficult time with emotions, consider seeking help with a mental health professional and/or grief support groups.
Some of the holiday season is spent reminiscing, putting in extra effort to stay positive, and some days you’ll find yourself bringing back those exact emotions from the day you lost your loved one. You may find that some days are easier than others, and holidays may not be so tough after all. As life continues to carry on, we must adjust our lives, hold onto our memories, and push forth accordingly.