Dealing with the Holiday Season

BY: April Ratcliffe, LSW

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

It seems as though we just put away our holiday decorations and retailers are already preparing for the upcoming season. There is always an urgency to draw our attention to purchasing gifts, decorating and planning. Because you have experienced the death of a loved one, you may not be in the mood.

The word 'holiday' implies a time of celebration, gatherings or worship. How can you celebrate when experiencing so much pain? Pain from anger, despair, loneliness, guilt, isolation, sadness, being overwhelmed, or frightened to name a few. The thought of celebrating during the holidays is often too much for some. How do you celebrate when your loved one is gone? J. William Worden has developed four grief tasks which he feels are essential to adjusting to a loss.
  • The first task is to accept the reality of the loss. The holidays can be very demanding for anyone. You may feel that you are not up to it, and find it difficult to focus. Your loved one will not return to help out. Who is going to do all the cooking, the house work, the shopping, wrap the gifts, decorate, pay bills? What about the children, the grandchildren? Worden stresses:  Do what you can, if and when you are able. Ask for help if needed. Life has changed. It is fractured. Give yourself time to heal. 
  •  The second task is to work through the pain of grief. Allow yourself personal time. Share your feelings with someone who is a good listener. Attend support groups or self help groups. Exercise or go for a walk. Pray or meditate. Reflect. Write in a journal. Scream out if need be. Cry when you feel like crying. Expressing emotions releases tension and stress. Maybe this year you will only do half of what you normally would. Do not push yourself. Those who truly love you will understand. 
  • The third task is to adjust to the environment from which the person is missing. Your loss may change the tone of what is normally a festive atmosphere. This could be an opportunity to begin new traditions or blend some of the old with the new. Someone else may now carve the turkey or sit at the head of the table. Take this time to honor your loved one. Share memories. This may be the first time memories of your loved one are shared since the funeral or memorial service. 
  • The fourth task is to find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of moving on. To move on with your life does not mean that you forget your loved one. Memories help you stay connected. With time, the pain eases. Eventually, you can participate in social gatherings and feel a certain level of healing. New relationships will form and you can find yourself experiencing new adventures. Remember: there is no quick fix. No magic wand. What helps one person may not help another. If you find that nothing seems to ease the pain, consider professional help. 

As the holidays approach, be patient with yourself and try to minimize stress. If you need to excuse yourself from a gathering, do so without guilt. Reach out to family and friends for support. Do what works for you during the holiday season.

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