As I mentioned in our December Newsletter, the holidays are supposed to be joyous and happy for everyone. However, when a death of someone who is near and dear occurs, whether a year ago or more recent, the holidays can bring back heartache and loneliness.
The traditions and special memories that the season brings can elicit strong emotions for everyone, all at varying degrees. That’s why it’s important to understand the grieving process and how it impacts everyone differently.
The knowledge of a loss may be addressed in different ways. Some may walk on eggshells, afraid to arouse sad memories and more grief. But that silence in the room or avoidance in mentioning his/her name can be just as cruel. Rather than avoid the conversation, acknowledge the loss and welcome the memories and stories of your loved one. This reinforces the impact he/she had on yourself and others.
Navigating through the first holiday season after a death will always be difficult. Here are some basic guidelines, grief counselors agree that can be helpful for yourself and others who face this challenging time of year.
If you are the grieving person:
Give yourself time to grieve. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about death is that there is no time frame. After my father’s passing, my mother grieved for all the remaining 8 years of her life. A number of years ago, a close family lost their son unexpectedly, creating a great amount of grief that created friction after a period of time. Some family members were ready to move on while others continued to grieve for years. Don’t bend to the pressure. and hopefully, those around you will respect and understand your need to move at your own pace.
Don’t let grief shut you down. Look to maintain a normal routine getting enough sleep, eating right and address daily necessary functions. Some of this may be difficult but be aware and cognizant of how you are doing. These things will help you transition to the holidays and the emotions associated with it.
Depending on your frame of mind, make plans in advance for the holidays. Determine how you want to spend your holidays. While some want to be left alone, others feel the need to be in a large group. In either case, think about this and talk with close family members or friends to find the right situation and enlist their support.
If your tradition is to hold the annual holiday party, rethink this. Don’t feel pressure to host but rather think of yourself. Maybe it’s time to ‘change’ traditions. Discuss this with those close to you and consider other options, if needed. If you feel compelled to continue hosting, then make sure you have the emotional and physical support to do so.
As mentioned earlier, there are different ways to address the loss of a loved one – you can either avoid the topic or embrace it. When you are with loved ones, consider sharing stories and memories together. While this can be difficult, it can also be cathartic and helpful in the healing. While the loss can be raw, it’s important to remember the good times, the funny moments and the joy that existed as well. Not only may this make you feel better, it will assist those around you as well.
If you have a family member or friend who is grieving:
Grief is a natural human emotion so be sure to allow the person the right to grieve. Again, everyone does it differently. Some people want to withdraw and work through their sadness alone. Others manage by carrying on as usual and tempering the pain through the distraction of people and parties. Consider what your loved one needs may be rather than what you would do in the situation.
Be there for them. Make sure they are taking care of themselves. Like you would need, make sure they are getting enough sleep, eating or simply functioning well at home. Be aware of the signs that the person may be getting clinically depressed. Engage with them through a meal or coffee. Talk with them about daily life or routines, not being afraid to talk about the loss of a loved one. If emotions are still out of sorts, consider advising him/her to see a counselor.
Be open to talking with the grieving person about the loss. Sometimes, just listening is helpful. Don’t worry about giving advice unless they ask for it. Just be available. Grief will come and go at various intensities, changing moods and actions. Through talking and listening, time will help smooth out the emotions.
Understanding the emotions of the holidays, ask what he/she wants to do for family events. Would they feel comfortable to acknowledge the loss while keeping the holiday spirit and warmth going for everyone? One way to do this is to openly create an empty place at the table and take a moment to share memories about the person who has passed away. Other options include making a toast to the person, inviting everyone to say something special or a prayer can be offered. Sharing this loss together allows everyone to be involved in support of one another.
Be there to assist. If there are holiday traditions that want to be continued, or for that matter, be changed, be ready to lend a hand, emotionally or physically. Counsel that person and offer suggestions on how to transition to life without the loved one.
They say, time heals most things. Just remember, time varies for each and every person. With a first holiday season since the loss of a loved one, be sure to allow yourself or others to feel openly and without pressure. Enlist or give support where needed. Look for ways to remember, honor and celebrate the life of your loved one. While those wonderful memories will take you through various emotions, they will also make you appreciate the love and relationship you had while they were with you.