SURVIVING GRIEF THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS

Holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions such as family vacations or weddings, can be very difficult times of the year.   It may be thought that a great relief occurs following the death, and that it should be all downhill from there, but it's not as easy as that.  The Christmas season can trigger strong emotions and reawaken grief.

You may dread facing the holidays without your loved one and, feeling numb, withdraw from friends and family. There is no right or wrong way to grieve; grief is a personal and individual issue. You must grieve in your own unique way, and no one can tell you how long it should take or how you should do it.

A family in grief can greatly help one another by preparing in advance for special days.  Maintaining family traditions is very important, but it is not always possible.  Adding some self-created rituals or new traditions that include your loss can deepen the meaning for each holiday. 

New traditions can expand the meaning and depth of special days even more for each member of the family when they are included in the process.  When planning, include time for each family member to share any feelings they may have about the upcoming holiday.  Encourage children to come up with ideas and suggestions of things they would like to do to help keep the memory of a loved one alive at family gatherings. 

Paul Alexander, a Bereavement Counsellor reveals in the video "Ray of Hope" some suggestions to help those who are facing the holidays with a loss.

1. Set boundaries on your expectations: Grieving takes a lot of energy, set limits on what you can and cannot do during the holidays. It’s okay to say that you may want to hold Christmas at a different place.

2. Have a meeting or discussion with family and friends before the holidays. Share your needs and wants.

3. Observe the day in a way that has meaning for you. Let the day be an opportunity to nurture yourself, provide comfort and care for yourself. Let it be a day of healing. This will help you cope with the roller coaster of emotions that the holidays can bring.

4. Honour your emotional life. Be honest with your feelings, tell others how you feel.

5. Be flexible. The best made plans can be broken. Be friendly to yourself.

6. Recreate or change traditions, start something new. Everyone grieves differently and you may want to break from past activities or start something new. It may be too painful to remember or participate in some past family traditions.

7. Bring the special touches of your loved one to the holidays. Some suggestions are: hang a stocking for the deceased, place his/her favourite ornament on the tree, or place a past Christmas card or picture out to display. Do something that is meaningful for you.

8. Buy a gift for yourself, or buy a gift in memory of your deceased loved one. Simple gifts can be significant. Remember how your loved one contributed to your life; one suggestion is a gift of a photo album of the deceased to give to a family member or close friend.

9. Have a plan for the holidays. You don’t have to follow through with your plans; however have something in place where you can be with supportive people or if you choose to be alone on the holidays, have available phone numbers of people you can call if you feel the need. Be kind to yourself.

10. Connect to the spiritual. During the holidays; read a book about hope, go to a place that lifts you out of yourself, pray or meditate, light a candle, do something that is significant for you.

Anticipation of the holidays is usually worse than the actual day, but try to do what helps you the most. There is no perfect way to spend the holidays. Hold on to your hope. Listen to the small still voice inside you and do what you have to do.