Handling the Holidays

handling loss during the holidays

Handling the Holidays After the Loss of a Loved One

by Elena Bell, LISW-CP, a popular grief therapist with over 25 years experience 

“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way”

…I can’t stand that song! I don’t want to hear anything jolly. Don’t they know my loved one died? I don’t want celebrations. I just WANT HIM BACK!”

Many experiencing the pain of loss want to go to sleep before Thanksgiving and wake up after New Year’s. The world dreams of white snowflakes, gifts from Santa, turkey stuffing, the pungent smell of balsam, sparkling lights and sweet carols.

But grievers feel even more alone in their sadness.

The contrast of light and dark is perhaps never as great as during holidays. But there are ways of coping; ways to remember and celebrate the life lived while still taking care of grief. Here are suggestions:

Plan the holiday. Do not just wait and see what happens.

Grieving takes energy. There is little left over for traditional holiday events. Decide what you can handle comfortably, and then cut that list in half. Do you still want to have the family over ? Or go out? Are you up to cooking, cleaning and decorating or would you rather someone else do it this year? Would it still be a holiday if you didn’t send cards? Buy presents? Decorate? Make homemade holiday gifts? Buy holiday clothes? Attend holiday parties? If it’s important, can you find a way to do it differently? How about getting cards imprinted? Shopping in catalogues? Having the neighbor’s children put up the tree?

Do something different.

Making changes can make the days less painful. Consider scrambling the day. Open presents/eat dinner at a different time. Attend a different house of worship or a different service. Let the children take over cooking and decorating. Go away for the holidays – visit a relative out of town, take a cruise.

Be with people who care about you and spend some time alone. Also do something special for yourself.

Let family and friends pull you towards life. Let their love in. But also set aside time for yourself for the luxury of tears, thoughts and rest. Also be kind to yourself – buy yourself a gift, a massage, go to a movie, take a nap, sleep late, take a bubble bath.

Actively remember your loved one.

Toast his/her memory. Look at a photo album. Swap memories. Create a special Christmas stocking for your loved one. Write wishes or stories on paper and place in the stocking to be read later. Place flowers or a candle in front of his/her photo. Play his/her favorite holiday music.

Attend a memorial service or support group at a church, hospice or funeral home.

There is comfort in being with others experiencing grief. You are not alone, even though it feels that way. If you decide to go away still do something in remembrance. Throw a flower in a lake, gather shells, or light a candle. He/she’ll be on your mind no matter what you do, so acknowledge it.

Our greatest comfort may come from doing something for others.

We can acknowledge our loss more meaningfully by:

•Giving a gift in memory of the deceased

•Adopting a needy family or child for the holiday

•Donating money we would have spent on gifts to a charity

•Inviting a guest (senior citizen, foreign student) to share our holiday.

We are different each year and each holiday. We are older, richer/poorer, healthier/sicker, and happier/sadder. And we still remember our loved ones. Remembering we are mortal, makes life and loved ones more precious. We need to rejoice and celebrate our lives and the lives of those close to us.

Celebrate the holidays!

To learn more about the many Beginning Again programs, including the free Journey Through Grief program offered by James A. McAlister Funerals and Cremation and taught by Elena Bell, LISW-CP, call 843-766-1365; visit CharlestonFunerals.com or email Rebecca@JamesAMcAlister.com. James A. McAlister Funerals and Cremation is located at 1620 Savannah Highway, Charleston, SC 29407.