Managing Grief During the Holidays

December 5, 2023
Health & Wellness

For many people who are grieving, the weeks and days leading up to the holiday are actually more difficult than the day itself. Nancy Haberichter, RN, director of WinnMed Hospice, shares strategies and tips to help cope with loss.

Tips to cope with grief

1. Understand that the holidays invoke such a sense of family, togetherness and joy. But if you are grieving the sense of family may be altered and there may not be joy surrounding you right now. Give yourself permission to mourn again because the grief seems to become raw again during the holidays when you are missing someone you love.

2. Try to plan ways to honor your loved one. Many times the people around you do not want to bring up your loss because they don’t want you to be sad. It may be easier for them and for you to find ways to honor your loved one. Ways in which other people can participate, which also gives them a sense of remembering for their own healing as well as helping you. (Memory wreath, box of memories, special reminders, quilt, ornaments, Chinese lanterns)

3. Take care of your health and well-being. It is easy to neglect your health and well-being when grieving. Try to eat well and get some exercise. Walking can take your mind to a different place for a while and is good for your overall physical and emotional health.

4. Only do what feels right. Take time to create peaceful surroundings. You may not feel like attending all the festivities that you have in the past. Give yourself permission to skip things or attend for a short period of time, giving yourself a break when you need it. You are not obligated to participate in anything that does not feel doable. Be gentle with yourself and your decisions for what you can handle. On the other hand, you may feel the holiday busyness brings a welcome distraction that may bring joyful feelings and memories in which case immersing yourself in those activities may be welcome to you. There is no right or wrong to how you decide to do the season. It is all OK!

5. Feel joy. Without guilt. Give yourself permission. The heart can feel joy the same time as sorrow, and it helps to balance the sadness. Allow yourself to experience moments of joy without guilt. Your spirit needs it.

6. Heal others. Do something in the community that lifts your spirits. It’s gratifying to help others, and is a good reminder that we are not alone in our struggles. It helps us keep perspective that the holidays can be hard for a variety of reasons, and helping others helps our own heart to heal. (Giving trees, random act of kindness, volunteering, making meals for others, donations to food banks or hospitals)

7. Seek out support. Sharing your emotions and feelings about missing your loved one during the holidays can lift the burden of grief by just talking about it to someone who listens to you. If you have someone in your life that will listen and companion you by letting you share your grief, it can be such a release for the pain. Grief support group meetings are extremely helpful and a safe place to share your feelings if you want. They are also a safe place to just listen to others who may be feeling some of the same emotions that you do.

8. Cry. Give in to the tears. There is no shortage of raw emotions over the holidays, and crying is not a sign of weakness. It’s how we release intense feelings. A good cry can be very healing and serves as an important part of our journey. Give other people permission to cry also. Let them know that can be healing for you as well. But not everyone grieves in this way and may try to avoid the sadness. Allow yourself and others to mourn how and when it suits their own experience of grief.

9. Accept your feelings. Inevitably there will be ups and downs. Grief does not come on a straight road. It is messy with many curves and mountains. Just as you think you have conquered it, it may return to catch you off balance. Do not despair or think there is something wrong, grief comes in like the waves of the ocean and eventually those waves die down and you can see the progress you have made with it more clearly.

10. Plan ahead. Sometimes the anticipation is worse than the actual holiday. You can plan activities that give you comfort ahead of time so that you have something to look forward to, rather than building up dread of the pain that the holiday will bring. You may want to try new activities that do not have previous memories attached. But remember that familiar traditions might be comforting as well, even if you have to adapt them because of your loss.

Haberichter says, “There is not one piece of advice that fits for everyone. People are uniquely different and therefore their grief journey is uniquely different.”

Additional Grief Support

WinnMed Hospice offers grief support group meetings monthly in Decorah and Waukon. Please call with questions on location and times: 563-387-3024.

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