The Empty Chair at the Table

Tips for Coping With Grief During the Holidays

It’s never easy dealing with the loss of a loved one, but it can be especially difficult during the holiday season. Some people find solace spending time celebrating with friends and family while others may feel uncomfortable doing so. There is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays, and there is help available for those struggling to cope. Lori Hardoon, The director of JASA’s Partners In Dignity, a 15-year-old program that provides specialized and culturally sensitive services and resources to those facing a loss, offers some invaluable tips:

  • Set realistic expectations for yourself. Remind yourself that this year is different. Decide if you can still handle the responsibilities you’ve had in the past. Examine the tasks and events involved in celebrating and ask yourself if you want to continue them. Take others up on offers to cook, shop, decorate, etc.
  • Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Share your plans with family and friends and let them know of any intended changes in holiday routine. Memories can sometimes be a source of comfort to the bereaved.
  • Allow yourself to feel joy, sadness, anger – allow yourself to grieve. It is important to recognize that every family member has his/her own unique grief experience and may have different needs related to celebrating the holidays. Experiencing joy and laughter does not mean you have forgotten your loved one.
  • Be Careful of the “Shoulds”– Concentrate on doing what is most helpful for yourself and your family members rather than on a notion of what you “should” be thinking, feeling or doing.
  • Create a new tradition or ritual that accommodates your current situation. Some people find comfort in the old traditions. Others find them unbearably painful. Discuss with your family the activities you want to include or exclude this year. Some examples  include: Announce beforehand that someone different will carve the turkey. Put a bouquet of flowers on your holiday table in memory of your loved one.   Visit the cemetery and decorate the memorial site with holiday decorations.
  • Stay off social media. Viewing social media platforms and looking at photographs of others who are engaging in holiday festivities is a gateway into an unsupervised emotional land mine.
  • Stop apologizing. You don’t have to feel guilty about your grief. The holidays can bring up very difficult memories and this should not create a feeling of shame. You are deeply missing your loved one, and you are emotionally fragile. Each time you apologize, you are basically sending yourself a message that you are doing something wrong.     
  • Seek professional help. You may need to see your doctor if you are experiencing the physical or emotional symptoms that grief can create. You also may need to go to a licensed therapist or enter a support group. This is not a sign or weakness. Be honest with the professional and explain that the pain is unbearable, and if you are feeling suicidal you need to immediately tell them. If you are suicidal, you need to call the suicide hotline-1-800-273-8255 or 911.

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