McClarinnon: 8 tips for living with grief through the holidays
For many, the holidays are a time of joy, togetherness and celebration. However, for people who have lost a loved one, it can be a time when emotional pain is amplified, and loneliness heightened as they face the prospect of a holiday without their loved one. Nothing can replace a loved one who has died, but there are some things that can help make the holiday season easier.
My dad, Ben Krueger, passed away on Nov. 19 of this year and this will be my first Christmas without him. I made it through Thanksgiving with the support of my loving family and friends. I appreciate each text, email and card that I have received.
So as I provide you with tips about how to get through the holiday, I am reading each word as well and will take this advice to heart. These tips will help me guide my way through the days and nights ahead. I hope these tips will help you focus on ways you can still find joy in the holidays while coping with feelings of grief or isolation.
- Stick with what feels familiar or give yourself permission to try something new. Remember there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the season. Changing routines that are part of your tradition can soften the pain. Following the same family traditions can be just as comforting. You can decide what to keep or change. It would be good to reflect after the holidays are over about how it all went.
- Protect your time to prevent exhaustion. Realize that it isn’t going to be easy. Do the things that are important and special to you. Delegate or accept the offers from others to help you prepare for your celebration.
- Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Talk with someone you can confide in about your conflicting feelings about the holidays. Let them know that this is hard for you. Let them be there for you. Let your loved ones know what you need: a hug, company to watch a movie, someone who will go with you to a party but be willing to leave early if you run out of steam. Holidays are full of parties and get-togethers. You should plan to be with people you enjoy, even if just for a few moments. To make going easier, ask a friend to accompany you, and stay only as long as you want. Ask your host if it’s OK to accept or decline at the last minute, since you’re not sure how you’ll be feeling. And allow yourself to decline invitations you don’t want to accept. “Know your exits.” What works for you this year may be different from last year or next year. Check in with yourself and do what feels right, healthy and nurturing.
- Skip the chaos to avoid frazzled nerves. Turn off the computer, light a fragrant candle and grab a soft blanket. Curl up with a movie or a book. Take time to create peaceful surroundings to soothe your nerves. Have you heard of JOMO? It is the “joy of missing out.”
- Cut yourself some slack … not your finger. Grieving is naturally distracting. Even the smallest kitchen disaster can quickly deplete coping skills. It is OK to buy store bought or do things differently in the kitchen. Not only is this a good idea in the kitchen, but while you are driving, moving things around the house. It is easy to get distracted and cause an accident or hurt ourselves. Numbness, lack of concentration and confusion are symptoms of grief. Even allowing yourself to do online shopping for loved ones near and far can help you avoid mishaps.
- Honor the past. Find a way to include your loved one’s memory. Hang their stocking, make your favorite meal or dessert, or pay it forward in your loved ones name.
- Volunteer. Do something in the community that lifts your spirits. It induces a “helper’s high” that is good for the brain and the heart. It also reminds us we are not alone in our struggles.
- Allow yourself to cry. Allow yourself to feel joy, sadness, and anger. Allow yourself to grieve. Notice the moments of peace, joy and warmth when you can and cherish them. But don’t force yourself to feel what you don’t or to do what you you don’t have energy for. Allow yourself respite from the pain and enjoy the festivity’s without guilt.
As I read through these tips, I shake my head and acknowledge that I can do some of these things in the coming weeks. I know that my heart and soul are enduring the ebbs and flows of grief, and that I will do my best to be in the moment.
Grief is not easy; it can be overwhelming and exhausting. The most important thing to remember is there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season after the death of a loved one. The best coping mechanism for the holiday season is to plan ahead, get support from others and listen to yourself.
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Celynn McClarrinon is a certified grief recovery specialist. If you want to talk or ask questions about the Grief Recovery program, or join the next 8-week Grief Recovery Group starting on Jan. 12, 2022, email her at email@example.com.