Dealing with grief and loss during holiday season

As we move into the winter season, we begin to prepare for the upcoming holidays. Friends and family often talk about and make plans for celebrating and getting together. However, for many who have recently lost a loved one, this can be an especially difficult time of year.

Holidays and special occasions often work by magnifying and intensifying the grief response, especially when the loss has been recent. However, it’s also important to acknowledge that grief has no time frame and the third or fourth or fifteenth holiday season may be just as painful as the first.

First of all, acknowledging the emotions that accompany your loss is very important in dealing with the holiday season. Hiding your feelings and pretending you don’t hurt isn’t helpful. Leaning into the grief allows you the opportunity to recognize that there is no right or wrong way to deal with your emotions. Others may try to tell you what you should do, but it’s important to listen to what is right for you and to “sit” with the emotional response in your grief. This can help you as you approach the holiday.

Communicate with those in your life who support and love you. Let your perfectionism go; if you can’t deal with all of the previous rituals you’ve engaged in, focus on what you can handle. Don’t try and act like everything is okay when it isn’t. Be gentle with yourself and set realistic expectations this year. You might not be able to do everything you’ve done in the past, but that’s okay.

It’s often suggested to prepare by honoring the person that is no longer with you during your holiday. Create new traditions; you might want to put together a memory box or a memory stocking. Place something on the table that has been made especially for that person; share your loved one’s favorite dish, a flower arrangement, a personal article, or have a holiday toast to the person who is gone. You may wish to buy a gift for your loved one and donate it to a charity. Give back to a group or a project in the name of your family member; play your loved one’s favorite music, look at old photo albums, share funny stories and anecdotes. Visit the gravesite alone or with a trusted friend or family member.

Remember to include children in remembering the person who has passed and to speak those words out loud. Our culture is often guilty of hiding our emotions and grief by thinking that we need to get over it and move on.

There is no magic formula for dealing with grief during the holiday season, but if you take the time to listen to yourself and prepare for the event, you may be able to find ways in which you can get through this difficult time.

Karin Hitchcock, M. C., CCC

Clinical Manager, Therapy and Counselling


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