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10 Tips for Navigating Holiday Grief

by | Dec 3, 2014 | For Families

A woman setting a table

As the height of the holiday season approaches, it’s important to remember that “Happy Holidays” doesn’t apply to everyone.  Many families — whether their losses are recent or occurred in the past —  are experiencing a feeling of emptiness, loss, and grief that is only amplified by the stress the holiday season brings. These 10 tips can help you navigate grief during the holidays.

Tip #1 – Don’t Be Afraid to Cry

Grieving the loss of a loved one is a completely normal process — even if our society doesn’t always handle the display of these emotions with understanding and sensitivity. There’s nothing wrong with crying when you feel sad, so if certain people make you feel uncomfortable for doing so, avoid them and surround yourself with people who will support you in the way you need.

Tip #2 – Know Your Triggers

No matter what type of loss you’ve experienced, you’ll likely find particular situations trigger your grief more than others.  If, for example, you’ve lost a child, attending your church’s holiday pageant may bring up a number of difficult emotions that may be best avoided. By recognizing the triggers that bring grief to the forefront, you will be able to avoid potentially upsetting situations that will lengthen the grieving process.

Tip #3 – Avoid Over-Committing

Over-committing yourself to too many holiday get-togethers and events is stressful – even more so when you add the complicated feelings of grief.  To minimize your burden, make no promises. Attend only those events you feel will help your grieving vs. add to the stress. Even those obligations that seem non-negotiable can be avoided until a time you are emotionally ready to further commit yourself.

Tip #4 – Ask for Help

For those events that you can’t avoid, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  This isn’t the year to single-handedly prepare your family’s traditional four-course meal – even if you’ve done so every year for the last twenty.  Take up loved ones on any offers of help they provide, or make specific requests if offers aren’t forthcoming.

Tip #5 – Embrace Your Memories

Did your loved one have a favorite holiday song?  Or did he hate holiday music altogether?  Taking small actions like playing a beloved song, cooking a dedicatory holiday meal, drinking a favorite beverage, or making a holiday toast to the memories of your loved ones will help rally your family and/or friends around the common cause of remembering those who have passed.

Tip #6 – Get Support

Many of us get busy over the holidays, and as a result, we may skip our usual therapist appointments or forgo our regular support group meetings.  Avoid this if at all possible.  Often, we need more support than ever during the stressful holiday season, so make it a point to lean on your professional support resources throughout this time.

Tip #7 – Watch Out for Over-Indulging

The stress of grief makes that entire plate of cookies (or even that entire bottle of wine) look like just what you need. However, it is more important now than ever to eat well and get as much exercise as possible to help maintain stress levels. After all, research proves that good self-care can actually help the grieving process, though it is commonly overlooked.

Tip #8 – Check in with Your Children

If there are children in your life that were affected by the same loss you’re experiencing, make sure you give them the love and support they need.  Be sure to allow plenty of time for reflecting on the person who passed, as this is a part of the healing process and will remind the child that it is not unusual or taboo to talk about the deceased.

Tip #9 – Ask Loved Ones to Share Memories

“Remember when Grandpa Frank accidentally left the Christmas ham in the oven for way too long and we had to eat lunch meat instead?” Sharing some laughs and tears while reflecting on your favorite holiday memories of loved ones will help everyone grieve together. And no better opportunity than to do this while all gathered to celebrate the holidays.

Tip #10 – Let Go of Guilt

Some of those that are grieving the loss of a loved one live with crushing guilt, even if they do not realize. Feeling responsible keeps us from feeling the full pain of the loss, but in the end is only misplaced grief. If you do not let go of this guilt, it will forever follow you around like a ball and chain, and seriously mess with your holidays. For more on dealing with grief, subscribe to the Good Grief Mini-Course.

What other ways do you navigate your holiday grief? Share your tips with us in the comments!


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