Jennifer Mosely, MSW, LISW-S, a bereavement counselor for Mercy Health – New Life Hospice, shares her thoughts on how individuals can deal with grief during the holiday season this year.
For many of us, the holidays offer a much-needed break from our busy lives. It’s a time to enjoy old traditions while gathering with friends and family. But for those who have experienced the death of a loved one, the month-long holiday celebrations can be a difficult or bittersweet time.
The emotional intensity of the holidays can deepen the pain of a loss, and the season can be especially tough for those who are in their first year of grieving. However, it’s just as common to feel a sense of loss many years later.
The holidays present a number of challenges for the bereaved.
The season can be filled with unwelcome reminders of the loss. For example, celebrations don’t feel the same when grandpa isn’t there to carve the turkey or mom isn’t there to trim the tree. Additionally, our culture’s emphasis on joy and togetherness can spark both pleasant and painful memories of holidays past.
Spending time with friends and family can be an important source of support, but it can also add to the stress. People who are grieving may feel pressure to act upbeat for the sake of others when inside they feel anything but happy. Friends who are uncomfortable talking about the death sometimes try to minimize the grieving person’s pain – or even avoid mentioning the loss at all.
The activity demands of the holidays can also be overwhelming for those who are grieving. Bereavement takes an incredible amount of mental energy. It’s hard to handle shopping, entertaining, decorating and cooking when your mind is already overloaded, and your thoughts are elsewhere.
Despite these challenges, it’s possible to cope — and even to find new opportunities for hope and healing.
The most important thing to remember is that everyone grieves differently. There are no rules. The right approach is the one that feels comfortable for you and your family.
For example, some people feel continuing with traditions without a loved one are an important way to continue sharing their memory. And for others, it may be more comforting to develop new rituals to help lessen the pain and immediacy of the loss.
Many people find it helpful to stay busy, but not too busy. There’s nothing wrong with skipping the Christmas cards or asking a sibling to host the holiday meal. Prioritize the parts of the holidays that you find comforting and nurturing, then simplify the rest. There are no shopping police who are going to come around because you decided to give gift cards this year.
On a positive note, the holidays can be an opportunity to remember the person who has died and honor his or her importance in your life. Visiting their grave, sharing family stories or supporting your loved one’s favorite charity can all help to keep the person’s memory and spirit alive. These types of rituals are also a great way to get others involved, which helps soothe some of the loneliness of the loss.
Above all, just remember to honor the grieving process. It’s not just okay to grieve during the holidays, it’s necessary to do so. The feelings may not be pleasant, but they’re part of the healing process. Have faith that the pain will pass, and that you will one day be able to enjoy the holidays again.
Do you live in the Lorain, OH area? Mercy Health – New Life Hospice offers services that help the bereaved understand and work through the process of grief, including Living Through Grief, a seven-week educational support class. To learn more about Mercy Health – New Life Hospice or their bereavement programs, call 440-934-1458.
Also, learn about the integrated behavioral health services we offer at Mercy Health.