The holidays provide an opportunity for reflection and celebration. For many, it is a time to express gratitude and love, to be together with friends and family, to remember milestones achieved and to look forward to the next year. However, for those who are grieving, the holidays can be very tough.
Luke Johnson, LISW, a social worker at Mercy Health, explains why this time of year is difficult for those who are grieving, and gives advice on how to help a grieving loved one cope during the holidays.
Coping with loss
Grief is a natural response to loss. Everyone will experience it at one point or another. Also, everyone grieves in their own way.
“Everyone has their own holiday traditions and routines,” says Luke. “When a presence who was around for so long is now missing… that is a monumental change. Monumental change is hard to cope with.”
Grief usually comes with an intense fluctuation of emotions. However, many people don’t know how to handle these changes. Therefore, it’s important to recognize there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
“Be gentle and be kind to yourself,” Luke says.
People who are grieving may also try to suppress their sadness or anger, which is often counterproductive. Those thoughts and emotions don’t go away and eventually end up surfacing in less healthy ways.
Luke suggests that people should lean into their grief. While it may feel instinctual to compartmentalize feelings, pain can help the mind recognize different emotions. In the long run, accepting these emotions help those who are grieving feel better about their situation.
Most importantly, it is critical to remember that grief does not have a timeline. Feelings of grief can sneak up on someone at any moment.
“People will grieve whenever they need to and for however long they need to,” Luke says. “Being proactive and setting aside a plan B during the holidays can make things easier in case they get overwhelmed or begin to feel upset.”
Many people want to help their loved ones through the grieving process. However, they usually don’t know how to help and are afraid of making the situation worse.
The best way to help a grieving family member is to be present. Sharing positive memories when they want to talk, helping with chores if they are overwhelmed, and even sitting in silence with them are great actions to consider.
Remember that those who are grieving may not outright ask for help, even if they need it. Also, some individuals may want to be distracted from their thoughts and while others may want space to think. And each day may be different.
“Just be patient with your loved one. This is not a fixable situation, it really just takes time and love,” says Luke.
Finding ways to honor the memory of the person who has passed can be a great way to help your loved one cope with feelings of grief. Whether it is something big or small, creating a holiday tradition to keep your loved one connected with this individual can make a difference.
Think it might be time for your grieving loved one to see a doctor? We are here to help. Learn more about the behavioral and mental health services offered at Mercy Health.