For most, the holidays are a time of joy and celebration. But for those dealing with the passing of a loved one, the season brings memories that also remind us of our loss. Similarly, we may mourn changes to beloved traditions that become necessary when a loved one is seriously ill. This anticipatory grief, which presents itself before the loss of a loved one, can incite feelings of sorrow or isolation.
Rather than resist the reality of grief during the holidays, acknowledge that this time of year is challenging and prepare for it by making specific plans that honor your feelings and needs. Here are a few steps to help you manage grief during the holidays.
Set realistic expectations
Even without grief, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season can be overwhelming. Recognize that you might not be able to do it all and focus on being mindful of your feelings. Consider scaling back on decorating, shopping, baking or sending cards if they add stress. It’s okay to take a break or skip a holiday party, especially if these activities stir up painful memories. On the other hand, if these events are a welcomed distraction, go ahead and partake without feeling guilty. Relieve any pressure on yourself to make this holiday “perfect” and give yourself grace and compassion.
Anticipating what’s to come can help minimize stress and lessen the likelihood you will be caught off guard by difficult situations. Set up a family call or start an email chain to coordinate plans and discuss specific roles and responsibilities for events. Communicating with loved ones in advance will help ensure everyone is on the same page and open the door to discussion about how you can support one another.
Acknowledge your feelings
It’s important to recognize there is no right or wrong way to experience grief. You may feel angry, sad, relieved and grateful all at the same time. It’s normal to have conflicting emotions while grieving and no emotion should make you feel guilty. Allow yourself to process your feelings however you need, and remember everyone grieves differently, even family members going through the same loss or change.
Create new traditions
While some family members may find comfort in honoring holiday traditions after a loved one has passed, others may find it distressing. Similarly, if a loved one is ill and unable to participate in traditions as they normally would, it can be upsetting. Voice your preferences and respect those of others. Consider talking to your family about starting new rituals that incorporate your current situation. Lighting a candle at mealtime, placing a commemorative ornament on the tree or decorating a loved ones’ memorial site can be small but meaningful gestures for someone who has passed. Holding a separate gathering with a loved one limited by illness, either in person or virtually, can help them feel included in festivities even if they are unable to participate as they normally would.
Participating in grief support groups or speaking with a bereavement counselor can be extremely helpful as you go through the grieving process. Our bereavement program provides compassionate support and resources, including holiday grief workshops, to ensure patients and their families get the help they need during this challenging time. For more information about grief support at Charter, visit our website.