Tidings of Comfort: 5 Tips to Manage Holiday Grief

A cropped shot of a caring mother consoling her adult son.

Christmas, Hannukah, New Years. The holidays are meant to evoke feelings of happiness and excitement. But if you experienced the death of a loved one this past year (or before), you may be left feeling less than festive. Memories of better times may only serve to remind you of the loss. Holidays force us to realize how much our lives have changed. If you’re already struggling with balancing parties, house guests, gifting and traveling, remembering those who are gone while everyone else is celebrating is a serious challenge.

There is no right or wrong way to handle grief, especially during the holidays. Some find comfort by continuing to follow family traditions, while others may choose to switch things up. No matter how you decide to handle it, there are a few basic principals which are good advice no matter where you are in your grieving process. Just remember that not every tip may work for you, and there are plenty of websites, forums, and medical resources that will provide additional suggestions should these not appeal to you.

Don’t forget to see to your own needs: Don’t be afraid to change or adjust your usual holiday plans.  Traditions will always be there – that’s why they’re traditions. Don’t feel bad if you feel the need to make changes in your schedule to keep negative feelings at bay. Communicate early and often to keep from disappointing family and friends. Don’t forget to take time to eat, sleep, and even work out. These things contribute greatly to your mood, good or bad.

Share your memories and spend time with those you choose…or skip it entirely: Spend time with those who will lift your mood, or with those who are going through feelings similar to your own.  If other family members are also grieving, consider forgoing holiday gifts in favor of honoring your loved one in some fashion, whether through a charitable donation or by hosting a holiday get away where family can reminisce without feeling self-conscious. SFor some suggestions on what to do to pay your respects during the holiday, check out these ideas.  If you do find that you are alone in your need to remember the deceased, or you are still uncomfortable with your feelings, consider doing something private or personal instead. It’s okay to take a break from the holidays, if that’s what works for you. Don’t feel obligated.

Do something for others: Some find that compassionate action helps carry them through difficult times. Volunteer at a soup kitchen; visit the elderly; ask someone who is alone to share the day with your family; sponsor a needy family; volunteer to make cookies or crafts or wrap gifts for charity, or contribute to a neighborhood potluck. There are always options. VolunteerMatch can help you locate opportunities in your area.

Set realistic expectations: Remind yourself that this year is going to feel different. Decide if you can still handle the responsibilities you’ve had in the past. Examine the tasks and events of celebrating and ask yourself if you want to continue them. Scale back on decorating so that there is less to clean up afterward. Accept offers from friends and family to limit your burden.

Remember that your process is your own: Your family and friends care about you, and will likely offer advice about what they think is best for the grieving process. Don’t forget to do what feels most comfortable for you. If volunteering at a local hospital or food pantry helps you heal, then seek out opportunities in the community. If stepping back from a more active role in your family’s celebratory activities is the best way, let them know. It is perfectly natural to need time and space to honor your feelings, and the memory of your loved one. But don’t forget to seek out your family and friends for support. You are not alone.

For more information on grief programs in your area, reach out to your local funeral director or hospice. Many programs are free of charge and open to the general public. To read additional suggestions for coping, check out Huffington Post’s 10 Ways to Cope With Loss During the Holiday Season, and for a longer list of suggested tips, view the 64 Tips to Managing Grief, collected by What’s Your Grief?

If you experienced a tragedy in your home this year, a trauma cleanup can help you begin the recovery process. Be sure your residence is safe and clean. Call Aftermath Services nationwide at 877-872-4339. Technicians are available 24/7 to answer your call.