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Question: A loved one has died. How can I get through the holidays? Here is some info that my therapist gave to me concerning holidays and grief. It was information that she received from The Center For Grief & Loss at Stella Maris. How can you celebrate holidays when a loved one has died? Instead of excitement, celebration, and anticipation of being with friends and family, the holiday season can create feelings of dread and anxiety in those who are grieving the death of someone special. For some the "heart" has gone out of the season. Feelings that may have been worked through may resurface: sadness and yearning may be re-triggered no matter whether the death is recent or if it occurred many years ago. The following suggestions may be helpful:
1 Communicate. Share feelings with others who grieve; learn to grieve together. There is comfort in sharing memories and thoughts.
2. Don't expect too much. Be gentle with yourself. Understand that diminished enjoyment is entirely normal. Invitation can be responded to by saying "If that is a good day for me, I'd like to come. If I'm not there, I hope you'll understand." People are usually accepting of the "ups and downs."
3. Be open to change. Changing holiday traditions can be helpful. Serving buffet style instead of sitting at the table eliminates the empty chair. Going somewhere different for a change of scenery might create a new tradition. Giving to charity in people's names saves the stress of choosing and wrapping gifts. Decorating a candle and lighting it at mealtime in memory of your loved one, or recalling a memory of the deceased while lighting a candle each night of your holiday can give new meaning to the holiday.
4. Practice the hard parts. Looking ahead and anticipating what might be especially painful sometimes helps to "take the edge off."
5. Expect the unexpected. Know that there will most likely be some things that overwhelm us that are not anticipated. These reflect the depth and breadth of the connection with the person who has died and does not mean ground has been lost.
6. Follow your heart. Though you may receive advice from others, be confident in your own decision about what is right for you.
7. Share. Share anecdotes and favorite stories about the person who died. Others need to know that you would rather keep the memory of your loved one alive rather than pretend nothing has changed.
8. Feel free to feel pleasure. There may be moments or even occasions that turn out to be enjoyable. Allow that to happen without guilt, with the sure knowledge that in the midst of grief there is the possibility of peace.
Once you've remembered your loved one, be sure to remember yourself. Take care of yourself. Be gentle. Do what you can do -- no more no less.
I hope this information helps all those here, for I know that it is helping me. I personally wish to extent my love to you, and my wishes for strength, courage, and peace as you enter into this holiday season.
Answer: You are just WONDERFUL! Thank you so very much for sharing that EVER SO HELPFUL information with us! As you know, so many people here are wondering how on earth they are going to survive the holidays. What you provided is so good, and so concrete!
Michelle Palmer, ACSW, LISW, is an associate therapist at the William Wendt Center for Loss and Healing and as been in social work for more than 10 years.
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