25 Tips for Coping with Grief at the Holidays
by Cathy Mandile
For some, Christmas brings back uncomfortable memories or even trauma. Not all of us have a Merry Christmas.
Perhaps our stress levels increase due to relationship challenges or loss of loved ones. It is so important to have Self Compassion during this busy time.
Here are some helpful tips on how to assist in coping with grief and loss at the Christmas season.
- Acknowledge that the holidays will be different and they will be tough.
- Decide which traditions/rituals you want to keep.
- Decide which traditions/rituals you want to change.
- Create a new ritual in memory of your loved one.
- Plan ahead and communicate with the people you will spend the holiday with in advance, to make sure everyone is in agreement about traditions and plans.
- Remember that not everyone will be grieving the same way you are grieving.
- Put out a ‘memory stocking’, ‘memory box’, or other special place where you and others can write down memories you treasure. Pick a time to read them together.
- Light a candle in your home in memory of the person you’ve lost.
- Include one of your loved one’s favorite dishes in your holiday meal.
- Be honest. Tell people what you DO want to do for the holidays and what you DON’T want to do.
- See a counsellor. Maybe you’ve been putting it off. The holidays are especially tough, so this may be the time to talk to someone. See your G.P. for a Mental Health Care Plan to assist in finding a reputable counsellor.
- Pick a few special items that belonged to your loved one and gift them to friends or family who will appreciate them.
- Journal when you are having an especially bad day.
- Don’t feel guilty about skipping events if you are in holiday overload!
- Don’t get trapped. When you go to holiday events, drive yourself so you can leave if it gets to be too much.
- Talk to the kids about the holidays – it can be confusing for kids that the holidays can be both happy and sad after a death. Let them know it is okay to enjoy the holiday, and it is okay to be sad.
- Go to a grief group. When everyone looks so filled with holiday cheer, sometimes it is helpful to talk with others who are struggling.
- Remember that crying is okay. The holidays are everywhere and who knows what may trigger a cry-fest. We’ve all been there and it is okay to cry (even if you are in the sock aisle at Target).
- Watch the booze. Alcohol can become a fast friend when we are grieving.
- Say yes to help. There will be people who want to help and may offer their support. Take them up on their offers.
- Ask for help. If people aren’t offering, ask. This can be super-hard if it isn’t your style, but it is important. Asking others to help with cooking, shopping, or decorating can be a big relief.
- Have a moment of silence during your holiday prayer or toast in memory of your loved one.
- Don’t feel guilty about not sending holiday cards!
- Seek gratitude. I know this is tough. But try to find one daily thing to be grateful for throughout the holiday season. Write it down, photograph it, share it on facebook. Whatever. Just look for the little things.
- Remember, it is okay to be happy – this doesn’t diminish how much you love and miss the person who isn’t there this holiday. Don’t feel guilty for the joy you do find this holiday season.
Cathy Mandile is a Melbourne based counsellor and family therapist.
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