Grieving through the Holidays

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by Kristin Albert,  Grief Counsellor

No matter what time of year we’ve lost a loved one, the holiday season can be just as difficult, if not more so, than the anniversary of our loved one’s death. How do we get through this overwhelming, family-focused time, in a constructive and healing manner?
First, realize that the days leading up to Christmas can often be more stressful than Christmas itself – from making all sorts of decisions pertaining to the adjustments of a Christmas without your loved one, to determining if you have the energy to decorate or celebrate, deciding which other family members you are now including, or even to which events you’ll be attending. These are all normal questions and responses to grief during the holiday season.

Here are some coping tips to help you through. First, listen to your body, mind, and soul, and do only what feels right or good for you to do. Do not let yourself be pressured by others, or feel the need to meet their requests and demands, if you don’t want to. This is your grief, not theirs, and we all grieve in different ways. So, be true to yourself. With this in mind, take time for yourself, remember yourself. Whether this means watching a favourite movie, taking a bath, relaxing, meditating, or taking a day trip, engage in an activity that is solely for your enjoyment – and don’t feel guilty about it!

You can also use the holiday season as an opportunity to create annual Christmas rituals. Sometimes little things, like lighting a candle in memory of your loved one, is enough. Sometimes bigger actions, such as setting a place for your loved one at the table, can help you feel less alone. You may want to celebrate at someone else’s house, or rearrange your own living space. Keep in mind, though, that rituals are supposed to bring comfort and peace, not further distress.

It is also very important to continue to express your feelings freely and openly. Proper recognition and feeling expression is a large part of grieving and there is no reason to shut this down just because it’s Christmas. You might be surprised by how this affects those around you. If you’re anticipating adding a burden to their festive activities, you might find that they are grateful for your openness, as it allows them to express the same types of feelings, guilt-free. This can bring strength to a family and relieve tension during an otherwise stressful season.

Most importantly, remember that this is a holiday season and not all your energies need to be directed specifically towards December 25. There are other times and events in which you can partake which can fulfill the holiday spirit you have if the actual day seems too overwhelming. Give yourself permission to engage when and how you feel comfortable, this too is completely acceptable.

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