The Holidays and Grief
Tips for Grieving During The Holiday Season
Holidays are often difficult for anyone who has experienced the death of someone they love, it can bring feelings of sadness, loss and emptiness. Love does not end with death, which can result in a renewed sense of personal grief during the holiday period.
There is no simple answer or guidelines that will take away the hurt one feels. We hope, however, that the our tips for grieving during the holiday season will help those better cope with grief during this time of the year.
1. Remember, the Holidays Don’t Have to be Perfect
People commonly feel they have to put on a brave face and do everything perfectly to protect themselves from grief and sadness during the holidays. It doesn’t work. No matter how tender your turkey turns out or how elegantly you set your holiday table, someone is missing and this devastating reality is a constant. Go easy on yourself and accept that things won’t be perfect this year.
2. Observe Traditions with Flexibility
There is no right or wrong way of handling the holidays. Some people choose to honor time old traditions and some people choose to break them. Both are okay. Tradition can provide a sense of comfort and security, but it can also make your loved one’s absence even more glaring. Sometimes making small changes such as opening presents on the evening of Dec. 24th or having dinner at a different place can be helpful. Make a plan for how you want to spend the holidays and what traditions you want to keep or change and let other know ahead of time.
3. Practice saying “No”
If you are someone who feels they have to say yes to every invitation, you may want to try and say ‘no’ a little more in the next few weeks. Avoiding isolating yourself too much and prioritize the most important commitments and resist the temptation to ‘stay busy’ and push your grief aside.
4. Have an ‘Escape Plan’ When You Do Attend Events
Sometimes you don’t know how you’ll react until you get there. It can be helpful to have a plan to leave early if you need to. Drive yourself to events or go with a friend who doesn’t mind taking you home if you need a quick getaway
5. Schedule some “Me” Time
In addition to saying ‘no’ more often, invest some of your time in your own well-being. Incorporate coping activities into your weekly calendar and plan for moments to reflect and grieve. You are important.
6. Ask for Help
Just because you’ve done it all in the past doesn’t mean you have to do so this year. Ask someone else to host the holiday gathering. Or ask family and friends to bring dinner items or help with the cooking. Invite friends over to help decorate. Grieving is hard work, especially over the holidays, so now is the time to ask for some help.
7. Talk about Your Grief
Don’t be afraid to express your feelings. Ignoring your grief won’t make the pain go away and talking about it openly will often make you feel better. Find caring friends and relatives who will listen – without judging you and without giving you unwanted advice.
8. Allow Yourself to Experience Moments of Comfort and Joy
Laughter and joy are not disrespectful. Give yourself and your family permission to celebrate and take pleasure in the holidays.
9. Talk About the Person Who Died
Include your loved one’s name in your holiday conversations and find ways to incorporate their memory into your holiday gatherings. If you can talk candidly, other people will recognize your need to remember your special person and help you to remain connected with them.
10. Seek Out Help if You Need It
While you may feel better when you talk to friends and family members, it sometimes helps to talk to an outside party. The Central Okanagan Hospice Association offers a diversity of support to help anyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.
Tips for Supporting Grieving Children & Youth During the Holiday Season
Holidays that are typically times of celebration can be very difficult for a grieving family. The empty space left by someone who has died may feel bigger and deeper. Common greetings such as “Happy Holidays” can feel painful. Many families find the first year or two after the death to be particularly difficult.
Here are a few tips for supporting grieving children during the holidays.
1. Allow Children and Teens to Feel Whatever They Feel
Children and teens grieve differently than adults. This is also true during holidays. Many parents are surprised by their children’s ability to find joy and excitement in the season even when a death is recent. Let your children know that its okay to enjoy the holidays and have a good time while there are grieving.
Encourage your children to express whatever they’re feeling when those emotions arise. Listen to them and don’t try to distract them from what they are feeling.
If you’re finding this time of year particularly difficult, let them know. Reassure them you’re happy they are experiencing the joy of the season.
2. Holiday Traditions
When a death is recent, many adults wonder if they should continue with holiday traditions, change them entirely, or take a break from them for a year. It may help to remember that there’s no right or wrong way to spend the holidays.
Ask your children how they would like to spend this time. Are there traditions they’d like to keep? Should new ones be created to fit the change in their lives?
Do what’s right for you and your family.
3. It’s Okay to Say “No”
The holiday season is a time of many events and invitations. Include your children in deciding which events to attend. Don’t hesitate to decline invitations with “We’re just not up to it this year.”
Know that it’s okay to make plans then change them at the last minute.
4. Traditions of Remembering
Creating traditions to remember the person who died helps families with their grief. Choose some holiday activities that help your children express their grief and connect to the person who died in creative ways. These will be different for each family.
- Make ornaments or decorations with photos of the person.
- Put together a memory or photo book.
- But a gift they would have liked and donate it or give it to someone.
- Create a recipe book of the person’s favourite meals.
- Participate in activities they enjoyed such as walks in nature or playing board games.
5. Honour the Person Who Died
There are many ways to maintain bonds to the person who died and keep their memory alive for your children. For example:
- Light a candle in their honour.
- Set a place for them at the holiday table.
- Make their favourite holiday foods.
- Share stories about them.
- Make a toast to them at a meal or event.
6. Seek Out Help If You Need It
The Central Okanagan Hospice Association offers a diversity of support for children and youth who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
Caring For a Loved One Over the Holidays
When caring for a loved one who might be facing their last holiday season, the thought of moving into a typically joyful time can be daunting for the people who love and care for them. Here are a few considerations to help ease some of the difficulties during this time of the year.
1. Acknowledge the fact that this might be their last Christmas. Even though it will be a difficult conversation, acknowledgement can help to reduce the weight that loved ones might be carrying and allow the family to begin to process and grieve together rather than struggle alone.
2. Be flexible with traditions to reduce the hustle and bustle. Some traditions, such as an open house or other festive parties, might be too much for you and your loved one. You might not have the energy to host big get togethers or to bake the many batches of cookies that you typically make, and that is OK. Discuss what is most meaningful to your family to come up with ideas on how to appropriately adjust. It might be a quiet cup of hot cocoa and reminiscing by the Christmas tree lights or watching your favourite Christmas movies or listen to music together.
3. Enjoy Christmas lights displays. With decreased energy, enjoying holiday lights in a vehicle might allow your loved one to enjoy it along with you. If they are too ill, consider taking pictures and sharing it with them as a slideshow so they can still enjoy the experience.
4. Bake your family’s favourite Christmas treats. Even if your loved one might not have an appetite to enjoy consuming them, the wonderful scent of the baking can add to the ambiance of the season and spur conversation of holiday traditions.
5. Give the gift of memories. With the possibility of being their last Christmas, purchasing a gift for your loved one might be difficult. Instead of “things”, consider the gift of memories such as creating a photo album of favourite times together. The person who is ill can also write letters to family members, sending electronic special message, or fill out an ”about me” book recording important facts and memories from their life. Memories or stories are the most valuable gifts today and to leave as a legacy of themselves.
6. Surround them with joyful sounds. Even if your loved one is not alert or able to respond verbally, remember that hearing is the last sense lost. There is much research that has shown people can hear their surroundings even when they are unresponsive. Sharing favourite memories and stories, sharing laughter, playing Christmas music they enjoy can bring comfort to all.
7. Take the time to be together. It’s not about striving for perfection this year, but instead having the time and space to enjoy each other’s company. Make time for meaningful and important conversations or just a quiet snuggle or tea side-by-side.