What makes the holidays so hard for people in grief and mourning?It helps to remember that the holidays themselves do not cause grieving people pain and sadness. However, the environment of the holidays can surely bring forth acute feelings of sadness as part of the emotional pain felt by persons in mourning and grief.Triggers – Images of ChristmasRelationships – Images of intact families at Christmas are everywhere – the manger scene, family around the tree sharing gifts, family members arriving home for the holidays, couples together, families with children, happy gatherings of all kinds.Specially produced television programs and movies often portray families at Christmas or at least focus on relationships. Familiar sounds of the season – Christmas music, heard for weeks nearly everywhere you go, takes you back to happier times when your loved one was physically present.Christmas greetings – Holiday cards begin to arrive from long distant, heard-from-once-a-year friends wishing you and your loved ones “the happiest of holidays”. The fact that some senders may not have known of your loved one’s death does nothing to diminish the distress and pain you feel. Maybe you even feel angry; somehow they should have known!
Past holiday traditions – Personal family rituals previously giving meaning to the holiday now don’t feel “right”. In addition, expectations of self and others can become overwhelming at this time of year. Many of these expectations have to do with how, or not, to keep past traditions part of your celebrations now.Perspectives to help you cope with the holidaysHoliday environment – Understand it is not the holiday itself that causes you emotional pain but, rather, the feelings experienced because of the holiday environment.Anticipation versus actuality – Realize that anticipation of the holiday can be worse than the actuality. Contributing to this is the very long time given over to the secular aspects and activities of this particular holiday.Choices – Make an effort to be in charge of your mourning and grief. Grieving is an active process; how actively involved you are in the process of your grief is an opportunity of choice. Choose to care enough about yourself to see that, to the best of your abilities, your needs are met. Physical care is but one part, although important. Addressing the responsibilities, expectations, and traditions of the holiday calls attention to the equally important issues of caring for oneself emotionally and spiritually. Personal vulnerability – Expect that you will respond to the multiple stimuli of the holiday environment. Be patient with yourself. Allow yourself the vulnerability that accompanies your mourning and grief. You are responding as a human being to a most significant change in your life! Perpetual change – Remind yourself that because loss always involves change, a constant of daily life, you are not a stranger to loss. You do have personal resources and strengths you have used before when faced with significant loss or change. At the same time however, remember that even though you are not a stranger to loss, you have not experienced this particular loss before.Actual steps you can take to help you cope with the holidays Prioritize – Prioritize your own needs. Make a determined effort to decide what is really important to you. Decide how and where you want to spend your energy.Speak up – Ask for the personal support you need. If people don’t know what you need, you are highly unlikely to get it. Remind others, if necessary, that you still need to hear your loved one’s name.Decide – Choose how socially involved you want to be. Act on these choices. Purposefully plan how to say “no” to people and activities that mean little to you.
Change – Determine what can be left out of your celebration without destroying its meaning for you and or your family. Try changing one or two of your holiday customs; you can always change back if you want to. Small changes can be good; let big changes wait.Commemorate – Include a special way by which to remember and incorporate the memory of your loved one in your holiday celebrations. It might be adding a special ornament to the tree that can appear each Christmas. It might be lighting a special candle to burn throughout the holiday meal. It might be planting a tree in your loved one’s memory or undertaking a cause that was important to your loved one. The list of things to do is endless; you are the best judge of what is appropriate.Be proactive and less reactive – If you can make these decisions early in the season, or even some of them, you are likely to find that you will be less reactive to requests from family and friends. Being proactive instead of being “at the mercy of the moment” will allow you to be more in charge of at least some things that contribute to the difficulties you, as a grieving person, may experience in being part of “the loveliest time of the year”.
Need MORE INFORMATION about Dr. Sugarman’s services?Dr. Sugarman is recognized as providing expert services for people experiencing a number of problems including loss and grief, anxiety, trauma, abuse, fears and phobias.If you are looking for a therapist to help you with grief due to miscarriage or the death of a child, please call 919-562-7905 for a 30-minute free consultation or e-mail lois@personaltherapeuticresources .com to schedule an appointment.Visit her website at [web: personaltherapeuticresources .com] to sign up for her newsletter and to receive her free report, “10 Ways to Help You Survive a Personal Crisis”.