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by Alana Gregg, MS

The holidays can be extremely difficult when you are grieving the loss of a loved one. They bring reminders of the person you lost and the memories and traditions you had with them. You don’t have the energy to go to all the parties and buy all the gifts and cook all the meals. Not to mention constantly being surrounded by people who seem happy and carefree. And you can’t even walk into a store without hearing the song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

There are many days on the calendar that we wish we could sleep through or just skip entirely. While I understand the temptation to shut down, there may be better ways to deal with your pain, and other people may be depending on you to still show up and make an effort.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with grief during the holidays:

1. Be prepared for ambushes. Ambushes in grief are when you are going about your day and all of a sudden you hear or see something that reminds you of your loved one. The pain hits you like a sucker punch and it is all you can do to hold back the tears. This can be very hard but this is normal. Expect that this will be a difficult time and try not to pretend to be ok when you aren’t.

2. Have a plan. Think through ahead of time how you will respond to different situations before you are in an emotional place that makes it really hard to think clearly. For instance, if you decide to go to a gathering, who could you take with you that knows what you are going through? Consider going late so you can skip some of the small talk, or driving yourself so you can leave early if you need to. If you are alone and are experiencing an ambush of grief, who could you call or text or ask to come over and spend time with you?

3. Do less. When we have certain traditions, we feel like we have to do ALL the things. But you probably will not have the energy or ability to be able to do everything. And with COVID, unfortunately, this may not be an option anyway. Instead, pick certain things that are especially important and meaningful to you. And if you need to say no to most things, that’s ok too.

4. Make new traditions. It can be healing to create a new tradition that honors your loved one. You can donate a gift to a charity in your loved ones name, decorate a tree with some of their favorite things, or take a moment as a family to remember them before you begin your normal activities. By doing this, you are acknowledging that it hurts that they aren’t here, that you miss them, and that you are carrying them with you.
Take care of yourself. It is important to remember how much of a physical toll grief takes on your body. Make sure you are scheduling time to rest and sleep when you need to. Also, consider checking in with your doctor about monitoring your physical health while you’re grieving.

5. Balance alone and relational time. We are all bent to be introverted or extroverted. Some of us need time with people to heal and some of us do our best thinking when we’re alone. Those are both completely ok. But it is important to make sure that you are not spending all of your time doing one or the other. When you are with people, will you be able to share your feelings honestly and ask for help? When you are alone, will you be able to process your feelings and not be tempted to numb your pain? Think through these things before you make your decision.
Remember what the holidays are about. Things may seem very dark right now and you can’t imagine things ever getting any better. Finding hope, even in the darkest moments, will carry you through the holiday season. Reflect on what the holidays are really about and why we celebrate.

Start Grief Counseling in PA and CO

Holidays are going to look different on many levels this year, and that is something to be grieved in and of itself. If you are grieving and need support, our counselors at Lime Tree Counseling are here for you. We understand the process of grief and how big of an impact it can have on your life. We also specialize in anxiety, trauma, and marriage counseling. Contact us to set up a free 15 minute phone consultation or to schedule an appointment. Please don’t continue to struggle alone.