Your Road Map for Coping with Grief During the Holidays - Hospice of Orange & Sullivan
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Your Road Map for Coping with Grief During the Holidays

November 18, 2022

By: Kristin M. Palmieri, M.A., LMHC, LPC, Bereavement Counselor.

Holidays are difficult for many people, even without the death of a loved one. Knowing what to expect from grief can help lessen anxiety because you’ll have a road map for the journey. The map for holiday grief includes allowing all emotions, increasing social support, practicing self-care, thinking about old vs new traditions, celebrating with rituals, and practicing self-compassion. 

Grief is messy. It is physically and emotionally exhausting. You may feel like the weight of the world is on your chest. Allow all your emotions in grief. These may include sadness, anger, shock, denial, confusion, anxiety, panic, fear, guilt, and relief. Blocking or suppressing emotions will cause them to manifest themselves as physical or mental health issues. When you are alone and thinking about how you are feeling, examine your grief and identify your emotions. Allow yourself to sit without judgement, examining those feelings and thoughts as they resonate with you.

Surrounding ourselves with good friends and/or supportive family is crucial during the grief journey. Our first instinct may be to seek solitude during the holidays, but humans are social creatures and need others to help us process death. Talking about your loved one and the void left by their passing helps you integrate the loss into your psyche and adapt to a changing environment.

Social support impacts our mood and strengthens our immune system. Seek time with supportive people who listen without judgement, give undivided attention, and ask questions. Seek people who are easy to be around. 

Self-care is not selfish. It is important to eat healthy, drink water, and exercise daily to help the stress flow through us. Make it a daily priority to do things that bring moments of joy or satisfaction. It is important to accept help from others and not feel like we must accomplish everything ourselves. It is difficult to ask for or accept help, but when we are grieving, we may need it.

Traditions around the holidays help us feel closer to family and friends. They unite generations and give a sense of connection with something bigger than ourselves. They keep family stories alive and help us bond during times of celebration. We can honor loved ones in our own way during the holidays by doing things they taught us or what they once enjoyed. We can memorialize them and say their names. We can ask ourselves How much of the holidays can I handle? Am I able to attend a holiday party?  Can I create new traditions, or do I want to celebrate with old ones?  There are no right or wrong answers in grief. You may give yourself permission to skip the festivities all together.

In what ways do you honor your loved one’s legacy? Many people have shared that they cook their loved one’s favorite meal on the holiday or buy their favorite dessert. Others have shared they light candles or put favorite flowers on their holiday table. Some other ideas: watch your loved one’s favorite holiday movie, turn digital photos into a photo album to display, make a pillow or blanket of their favorite clothes, take a trip you both had been dreaming about, or donate time or resources in memory of your loved one. These rituals honor our loved ones and help us remember the good times, progressing us through grief and giving a sense of their presence.

It’s important to have self-compassion when grieving a loss.  Many people don’t fully understand what it means to have self -compassion while grieving. Self-compassion is the acknowledgement you have been through an emotionally hard time as a caretaker or while watching a loved one decline. Self-compassion means being kind to yourself, recognizing your strengths, and being mindful of when you may need patience with yourself and others. 

Grief is emotionally and physically exhausting. It’s important not to lecture oneself on the way things ‘should be.’ It’s important to avoid self-blame and refrain from allowing your inner critical voice to dominate during these vulnerable times. Speak kindly to yourself during this holiday season and remember you are not alone on your grief journey. Hospice of Orange & Sullivan Counties, Inc. is here for you this holiday season with a variety of bereavement services and grief support groups. Click here to learn more about these opportunities for healing.