SURVIVING THE HOLIDAYS WHEN WE'RE GRIEVINGby Jennifer Amor, MS
The holidays can be a particularly difficult time for those who have lost a loved one. They are usually a time of joy and celebration, a time to come together with family and friends to share traditions and to make warm memories. After a loss, the holidays may instead feel cold and lonely. What was once a happy season now serves as a painful reminder that your loved one is not here to share it with you. You may not feel like celebrating at all. What's worse, just when you are at your lowest, you may even feel pressure from others to "get in the spirit," and celebrate anyway.
When everyone else is filled with the holiday spirit, it can make us feel isolated in our grief, like there is no one who understands how we feel. Rest assured that there are many other grieving people going through the same struggle. Since we cannot make the holidays disappear, here are some tips for how to get through them.
Make a plan. Sit down with your family and discuss how you will celebrate this year. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to express what things are most important to them, and what things might be difficult. Having an open discussion in advance can help eliminate potential stresses and hurt feelings of having different expectations for the holiday season.
Do things a little differently this year. Not all holiday traditions have to be kept exactly the same. Decide which things are special and important to you, and which you could do without. And remember, what you choose to do this year, you can always do differently the next year.
Realize your limitations. Maybe this year it's too overwhelming to have holiday dinner at your house, or to spend lots of time picking out gifts. Don't push yourself too hard. Consider some ways to lighten the load, like asking another family member to host dinner or giving gift cards.
Understand your needs, and make them known. Don't feel like you are letting anyone down by making some changes to your usual holiday schedule. Know what you need to help make it through this difficult time, and make those needs clear to your friends and family.
Honor your loved one's memory. The holidays will never be exactly the same as they were before. Creating a new holiday tradition to remember and pay tribute to your loved one is a good way to embrace the future as well as acknowledge the special place your loved one will always hold in your heart and mind. Here are some suggestions:
- Light a candle at meal time in memory of your loved one or hang a special ornament on the tree.
- Make a donation to a favorite charity in your loved one's honor.
- Share stories about your loved one, maybe remembering special moments from holidays past.
- Give a special gift of a framed photograph of your loved one to another grieving friend or family member who will cherish it.
- Bring your loved one's favorite food to holiday dinner, and include their name in the blessing.
- Spend the holidays helping those who are less fortunate. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or other charitable organization.
Don't be afraid to ask for help. Reaching out for extra support, especially around the holidays, doesn't mean that you are weak. It means that you are strong enough to know what you need and to seek it out. Consider attending a grief support group, which are often available through local churches or community groups. For those who have lost a loved one in the Niagara Hospice program, the Niagara Hospice bereavement department offers a variety of support groups and workshops. There can be great comfort in coming together with others who are also grieving a loss.
Rita Beitz is now a Niagara Hospice volunteer after her husband passed away while under hospice care in 2009. Rita says, "We were both very happy with the wonderful care that he was given. But even after losing Gerry, hospice care did not stop." Rita said about the grief counseling she received: "It was helpful. I was very nervous about joining the group that met at our local Tim Horton's; however, there was an instant connection with this group of eight wonderful ladies. They made me feel so welcome. We had all lost our husbands within a few months of each other. We had so much in common." Bereavement support is one of the unique services hospice provides to family members that is like no other health care provider. Many people think that grieving is a lonely process. However, many find that communicating and sharing experiences with others can help. As Rita said, "I found that we all had the same feeling, and that I wasn't an odd ball or crazy."
Above all, be patient with yourself. Make time to rest and take care of yourself, emotionally and physically. Be understanding of the fact that you are going through a very difficult time in your life, and you deserve the time and space you need to deal with your loss in whatever way is best for you. Instead of a time of stress, let the holidays be a time of peace and renewal. Who knows, maybe you will even find some unexpected moments of new joy this holiday season, points of light in the darkness of your grief.
Hospice is a way of caring for patients with end-of-life illnesses, and supporting their family and loved ones through the illness and grieving process. Niagara Hospice bereavement services are offered to family members of hospice patients before death, and for the 13 months following. Call 439-4417 or visit NiagaraHospice.org to learn more.