At holiday time, many people are dealing with loss and are often caught in a dilemma between the need to grieve and the pressure to get into the spirit of the season. Holidays or not, it is important for the bereaved to find ways to take care of themselves. The following guidelines may be helpful:
1. Plan ahead as to where and how you will spend your time during the holidays. Scale back on unnecessary activities. Redefine your holiday expectations. Perhaps this can be a transition year to begin new traditions and let others go.
2. One of the most important things is to give yourself permission to express your feelings. If you feel an urge to cry, let the tears flow. Tears are healing. Scientists have found that certain brain chemicals in our tears are natural pain relievers. Allow people to comfort you. They need to feel they are helping in some way.
3. Shakespeare once said, “Give sorrow words…” This may be a good time to start journaling. Write an “un-sent letter” to your loved one expressing what you are honestly feeling toward him or her at this moment. After you compose the letter, you may decide to place it in a book, album or drawer in your home, leave it at a memorial site, throw it away, or even burn it and let the ashes rise symbolically.
4. When you are especially missing your loved one, take out some photos, call family members or dear friends and share your feelings. If they knew him or her, consider asking them to share some memories of times they shared with your loved one.
5. Give money you would have spent for gifts for your loved one to a charity in your family member’s name. Consider donating money to the public library to buy a particular book. You could have the book dedicated in your loved one’s memory. Or perhaps plant a tree in their memory which you can enjoy for years to come.
6. Most of the time, before we can be feel better or be thankful, we have to come to some acceptance of where we are in life. Often that place isn’t what we would have chosen, but it’s where we are, so if we accept it – which doesn’t mean liking it – but if we accept it, then we can work our way to some gratitude. Maybe that gratitude is only that we are growing through our pain. But a slight feeling of gratitude can help our attitude, and maybe we can get a grip on what is really important.
Please remember the reality that the anticipation of the holidays without your family member is often much harder than the actual holidays themselves.