Dealing with Grief During the Holidays

“I wish I could just go to sleep on the day before Thanksgiving and wake up on January 2nd!” This is a sentiment that bereavement counselors all across the country hear a lot during the fall and early winter months.

One of the hardest things for most grieving families and friends to face, especially during the first year following the loss, is deciding how to cope with the holidays. They are confronted with traditions and rituals they can no longer share with loved ones who have passed away. The clichéd images of family togetherness and the often unrealistic expectations of a season filled with picture perfect, joyful gatherings can cause tremendous stress for those who are grieving – let alone those in the midst of the painful, isolating experience of loss. Familiar rituals and traditions suddenly seem too hard to bear without their loved one’s presence, and yet, ignoring the holidays altogether usually doesn’t work either.

So what’s a grieving person to do? Actually, there are many things that can help. First, try to have a frank conversation with family and close friends about what you want and need over the next few months. If you need time to be alone, tell them. If you want them to help with the holiday chores, ask. Usually, people are eager to help, as long as they’re told what to do.

Prioritize what activities you may want to do during the holidays. You may decide to skip sending the holiday cards or shop online instead of going to the mall. Many grieving people find that helping others during the holidays helps get their minds off their own troubles. Volunteer at a hospital or nursing home, donate money you would have spent on your loved one as a gift to charity or if you have the means, adopt a needy family for the holidays.

Some grieving folks find it important to do everything exactly the same as always. Others find mixing things up to be helpful. It’s okay to remember a loved one with a special candle in his/her memory or to hang a stocking that has your loved one’s name on it. Encouraging open and honest communication between everyone involved is extremely helpful and taking care of yourself should be a top priority.

Also, many people find that talking with others who are going through the same struggles during the holidays can makes things a little easier. Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island offers many opportunities to do just that during November and December. There are special Coping-With-The-Holidays talks in Wakefield, Providence, Greenville, and East Greenwich, as well as Holiday tree lightings all over the state.

Whatever you decide to do or not do this holiday season is okay. Just take one day at a time.