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Holiday Survival Strategies for Coping with Grief

Posted by Dr. Brenda Richardson Rowe, LPC-S Minister of Counseling on

For anyone dealing with an illness, grief, or the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be a time of sadness, pain, anger, or dread. It can be difficult to cope, especially when you see the sights and sounds of holiday happiness all around you.

The ebb and flow of grief can become overwhelming with waves of memories, particularly during Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Grief can also magnify the stress that is often already a part of the holidays. How can you begin to fill the emptiness you feel when it seems that everyone else is overflowing with joy? There are a few strategies that you can employ to help you get through this time:

Offer Yourself Some Grace

One of the best things you can do is give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you're feeling. Try not to fall prey to the belief that you must feel a certain way or do certain things in order to make the holiday “normal.” If you feel sad, allow the tears to come; if you feel angry, allow yourself to vent some steam.

Be Kind to Yourself

It's important that you get the rest and nourishment you need and try not to take on more than you can handle. If you need to be alone, then honor that. If you crave the company and affection of others, seek it out. Do whatever feels right to you during this difficult time.

Ask for and Accept Help

The holiday season is no time to feign strength and independence when you're grieving a death. You will need the help and support of others to get through, so don’t feel as if you are a burden. People generally receive satisfaction and even joy from helping those they care about.

After a death, people often desire to help but simply don’t know how. If you need someone to help you prepare meals, shop, or decorate, this is the time to speak up and make your needs known. Quite often, they will be delighted to feel like they are helping you in some way.

The same holds true for your emotional needs. Friends and family members might feel uncomfortable talking about your grief. They might think that you don’t want to talk about it and don’t want to be reminded of your pain. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) notes that not talking about someone's death lead to isolation and discourage those who are there to support you. Again, you will have to tell your loved ones the best way that they can help you. If you want to talk about what you’re going through, or you just need a shoulder to cry on, let them know.

 

Find Support

Sharing your feelings is often the best way to get through them and finding people you can talk to will help. Friends and relatives can be a great support during times of grief. However, they might be coping with their own feelings or so immersed in the holidays that they cannot offer the support you need.

Another good option is to look for a grief support group. You can search online or check with local churches, community centers, funeral homes, or a hospice to find a group that suits you. Support group members often make friends that end up being a source of comfort and care for many years to come.

 

Make a Difference

Many people like to help others in large or small ways during the holiday season. We may drop our change in a charity basket, purchase a gift for a needy child, or donate to a favorite organization. This can help us feel like we are contributing to the greater good.

Likewise, helping improve the lives of others can help take the focus off your loss. Studies show that volunteering can be beneficial to our mental health, particularly as we age.

Consider volunteering at a nursing home, hospital, hospice, children’s shelter, or soup kitchen. You can also find a way to help another family member or friend who may need it. Any of these things can prove cathartic and help in the healing process.

Stop Making Comparisons

It’s easy to see other people or families enjoying holiday festivities and compare their experience to what you feel during this difficult time. This may make you feel worse or that you're lacking in some fashion.

Keep in mind that the holidays are stressful for most people and they are rarely the "magical" gatherings depicted in greeting cards, movies, or on television. Try to embrace what you have rather than compare it to what you think others have.

During the holiday season, grief tends to intensify in difficulty, kindling both current and long-term losses.  It is normal to have these intense feeling, but please seek help by sharing with your friends, Pastor and/or a Christian Counselor if needed.  As you experience the darkness of the grief journey, remember:

“You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.” 2 Samuel 22:29

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