10 Tips for Coping With Loss During the Holidays

The holidays can be a difficult time for someone recently suffering the loss of a loved one. Here are a few things to think about that could help lighten the emotional burden.

If you’re mourning the loss of a loved one, the joyous spirit of the holidays may be at odds with what you’re feeling. The holiday season can magnify that sense of loss, triggering memories that remind the bereaved of the absence of the person they loved. “The holidays are based on tradition and being with family and if you’ve lost someone significant in your life then the holidays are going to be very different with that family member missing,” says Sondra Satterfield, bereavement counselor at Delaware Hospice in Dover. If you’re mourning the loss of a loved one this year, here are some things to keep in mind to make the process more manageable:

1. Plan ahead. Engage in calming activities in the weeks leading up to the holiday rather than dwelling on how painful you expect it to be. “Anticipating how different or difficult it’s going to be can make us more anxious,” says Satterfield.

2. Skip it. Don’t feel obligated to do anything that might cause too much stress. “If you’ve always done a lot of baking and you don’t feel like doing the baking this time around, that’s OK,” says Satterfield.

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3. It’s OK to cry. Satterfield says some folks still think that it’s not OK to cry or that it’s a show of weakness. But crying gives you and everyone around you a release. “It just shows that you’re in touch with your emotions and it’s OK,” she says.  “Plus denying your feelings can be unhealthy in the long run.”

4. Acknowledge your loved one. Carrying out a ritual in your loved one’s memory can promote healing, says Satterfield. Light a candle, share memories, create a photo collage of holidays past or display a favorite item of theirs in a holiday decoration.  Satterfield gives socks as gifts in memory of her mother who started the tradition after her husband died. “I say, ‘These are from mom,’” she says.

5. Don’t try to recreate the past. “Expect that things will be very different and don’t try to pick up where the loved one left off,” says Satterfield. Create new memories: go to a new location, travel, dine out, take in a movie or a play. These activities can be especially helpful on that first holiday after a loss but could become a new tradition.

6. Have an exit strategy. If you’re invited to an event and you’re not sure you want to stay, go early, spend time with the hostess and family and leave early. Or ask the hostess if she can provide a quiet retreat where you can go if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. Driving yourself to the event also gives you the option to leave without disrupting the festivities.

7. Give back. Sometimes the best antidote for grief is to do something for others.  Volunteer your time and talents or make a donation to your loved one’s favorite charity. Consider buying a gift you would have bought for your loved one and donating it to a needy family or an angel tree program.

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8. Focus on children. Kids bring life and energy to the season and focusing on their needs can help take your mind off your loss. Satterfield says it’s OK for kids to see adults express grief, but make sure that children realize that they are not responsible for what the adults might be feeling.

9. Practice self-care. Caring for yourself during the hectic holiday season is a must for everybody but it is especially important for the bereaved, who are already under a great deal of stress, says Satterfield. 

10. Don’t feel guilty. If fun happens, enjoy it. Laughter will honor your loved one. “Our loved ones want us to go on living and make the most of the life we have,” says Satterfield.

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