If you’re like me (human) and this is your first holiday season after a death, divorce or loss, you’re likely trying to find ways to either skip festivities, pretend they aren’t coming, or you’re in complete denial. The rows of décor in all the stores send pangs of memories. It’s apparent that this season will be anything but easy as you leave the department store dabbing your eyes with tissue. This is grief. And although you’d like to push past it, it’s far too powerful. The waves of memories and floods of reality simply overtake you at times.
The truth is that the majority of people struggle during the first holidays after a loss. You should know that this is normal and to be expected. But, there are things you can do to prepare and help yourself and loved ones get through the holiday season when grief overshadows. Below are 10 excellent suggestions and tips to help you thrive and process grief more effectively during the holiday season.
1. Don’t isolate
You may not feel like being around others. You may cringe at the thought of having to talk to friends or family members. You’re hurting and you’d rather be alone. You’d rather not talk about it. But, isolation is dangerous when we grieve. It increases the pro
bability of becoming severely depressed. Identify your support group. Perhaps you should join a grief or divorce recovery group. Tell close friends or family that you may need help or encouragement to not isolate. Remember that others have gone through grief before you. Allow them to help you as you travel on your own grief path.
2. Watch the food and alcohol consumption
Food and alcohol are typically abundant during the holiday season and can easily become the ‘go to’ coping mechanism for the grieving. (Darn dopamine!) Beyond the obvious repercussions of weight gain and potential addiction is the far more destructive one: numbing pain temporarily and beginning a pattern of never truly working through difficult emotions. Enjoy your holiday food and drink; but, keep it in check. Notice your eating and drinking patterns. Are you eating more or consuming more alcohol when you feel upset, angry or lonely? If so, begin to replace those negative coping skills with healthier ones. Try taking a walk outside, writing about your feelings, listening to uplifting music, or calling a friend instead.
3. Make a daily list of gratitude: Don’t succumb to self-pity
The practice of making a daily gratitude list can facilitate in the recognition of blessings and joys in everyday life. In self-pity mode we tend to focus on all that’s ‘wrong’ or ‘lacking’ in our world. Practicing intentional gratitude can promote the grieving through the holidays in a thankful attitude for all the goodness in the past, present blessings, and hope for the future.
4. Talk to the children about grief
Children are likely to be overlooked when there is death, divorce, or loss in a family. They may appear as if they are ‘just fine’ but most people aren’t aware that children often process emotions differently than adults. Children tend to talk much less about their feelings. Rather they will act them out in play, art, or behaviors. Compassionately talking with children to assure them that it’s ‘ok’ to feel sad, to talk about the person who is missing, or to express any emotions (in healthy ways) will increase the likeliness that they will feel understood and validated. Allow children to express their grief in their own way without judgment or expectations of what that should look like. Redirect destructive behaviors by verbalizing suggestions for healthy alternative coping skills. Focus on helping to identify the feelings they may be having. Playing with them will allow them to process through grief at their own pace. If you notice that there are major changes in sleeping, eating or behavioral patterns, it may be necessary to seek professional help.
5. Acknowledge and remember
It’s the elephant in the room. No one wants to say their name or bring attention to the obvious hole. The avoidance of talking about the person, the memories, the pain of the loss doesn’t help in the healing process. Instead, it may cause feelings of loneliness, frustration, or anger. Talk openly about the person who is missing. Acknowledge the pain of the holiday without them. Recall holiday memories. Give permission to yourself and others to embrace the grieving process by acknowledging and remembering.