Grief During the Holiday Season
Are you or someone you know experiencing grief? This article is to help you understand how to help yourself heal during the holiday season, or how to support someone you know who is grieving over the holidays.
First, it is important to know that the experience of grief and mourning is different for everyone. No two people will experience the same loss in the same way. For some people, the grief they experience feels unbearable. Holidays can heighten this feeling. I hope the information that is provided in this article will be a supportive aid as this holiday season approaches.
There is often pressure on grieving individuals (either internally, or from others) to put aside their sadness and hurt and be full of joy and thanksgiving. However, memories of the loved one resurface during events where the loved one would have been.
While this information was designed for people whose loved one has died, grief happens whenever you lose something. An individual may be feeling grief after moving to a new city and not being able to connect with friends or family, they may also feel grief after losing a pet, or after being diagnosed with a critical illness, and this list can go on. Therefore, if you feel like you are grieving something other than a loved one, the information in this article can still be helpful.
What does grief look like?
Common initial feelings of grief: Shock, denial, disbelief, numbness
Common feelings and experiences: Anger, guilt, regret, blame, sadness, depression, panic, fear, worry, relief, confusion, doubt, questioning one’s faith, changes in sleep. This list does not cover all the emotions and experiences one may have when grieving.
Thinking that you do not want to go one with life is normal, but thinking about suicide is not. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately by going to your hospital’s emergency room, or talk to a therapist, doctor, or crisis support line.
St. Leonard’s 24 Hour Mental Health Crisis Line: 519-759-7188 or toll free: 1-866-811-7188
Are you grieving? Here are some reminders during this upcoming holiday.
Love does not end with death. Our society wants you to join in the holiday spirit, but it may not feel that easy for you. Remember to be compassionate with yourself as you heal. Do what is right for you during the holidays. As you become aware of your needs, share them with trusted people.
Talk about your grief and about the person who has died. Your pain will not go away by avoiding talking about your feelings and memories. Find supportive and comforting family or friends who will listen to you without judgment. If you include the person’s name in conversation, others are more likely to recognize your need to remember them as an important part of your life. If faith or spirituality is an important part of your life, find people who are respectful of your need to talk about this part of your life or participate in activities that are meaningful.
Your physical and psychological limits may be different. Your energy level may be lower. Allow yourself to lower your expectations about what you can do during the holiday season. Also, be aware that “keeping busy” may be an easy way to distract yourself from grief, but this may add unnecessary stress that will prevent you from healing. Plan ahead to decide which traditions you want to continue or which new ones you would like to start. This will allow you to know what activities to anticipate and allow for less possibility of feeling caught off guard.
Embrace your memories. Instead of ignoring memories that arise as you think of the past, share them with others. If the memories bring joy and laughter, smile. If they bring sadness, cry.
It can be easy for others to compare their grief experience with yours. Your grief journey is uniquely yours and no one can take away your memories of your loved one. You have a right to experience your own grief, the multitude of emotions that occur, and to talk about your grief. You have a right to search for meaning, embrace your spirituality, make use of rituals, and treasure your memories. You have a right to grieve and move toward healing.
Are you wanting to support someone who is grieving?
Whether it is the first holiday season after your loved one has died, or it is 20 years later, holidays can be difficult. Here are some tips for supporting someone who is grieving.
Be an active listener. Right now, the griever needs to be listened to with compassion and no judgment. Do not worry about having something to say. Simply saying “I am sorry for your loss, I am here to listen if you need me” tells the griever that you care about their pain. The griever may need to repeat the same story many times as their brain processes the reality of the loss.
Do not try to take away their hurt. In order to heal, grievers need to move towards the pain, not away. Comparing your own grief experience when they are grieving (and you are not) may send a message that their grief is not as important.
When you talk to the griever, use the name of the person who died. Hearing the name may be a source of comfort and lets the griever know you have not forgotten them.
Try to avoid clichés as they can be painful and diminish the loss. Avoid comments like “time heals all wounds”, “just be happy they are no longer experiencing pain”, “you are holding up so well”, “you have so much to be thankful for”, and “you weren’t even that close to them”.
Consider writing a note to the griever sharing a memory of the person who died.
Read the information under “Are you grieving? Here are some reminders during this upcoming holiday” for how to encourage the griever during the holidays.
If you are a parent or grandparent of a child/teen who lost a loved one, visit centerforloss.com for more information on how to talk to them about grief.
Adapted from information found on centerforloss.com by Dr. Alan Wolfelt.