If you have read my Thanksgiving post then you know that I have experienced the loss of several close family members. I am only too aware of how difficult the holidays can be for someone who has lost a loved one.
A couple of weeks ago I received some correspondence from the Florida office of “Mothers Against Drunk Driving.” Because my brother was killed by a drunk driver in 1997 I do receive the MADD magazine, but I don’t often receive correspondence from the local office. It actually made me feel good, as if someone still remembered my loss. Included with the letter was a “Holiday Coping Tips” sheet that gave me the idea for this post. The following suggestions are taken from that sheet and my own experience.
Tips For Coping With Grief During The Holidays:
- Take care of yourself. Do not do anything simply because you feel obligated to. My brother died in September so the Christmas holidays followed not far behind. I was invited to a party by someone I knew from church and I felt like I “should” go, so I went. It was a huge mistake. I was not emotionally prepared to put on a party face and the experience was so emotionally draining that after the party I went home and slept for three hours. I encourage you to be very judicious in the activities you decide to take part in. Sometimes the toll it takes is simply not worth it.
- Adjust your expectations and realize that some of your traditional family activities may bring more pain than joy. Now might be a good time to institute some new family traditions which center on remembering your loved one in ways that are meaningful to you. You might attend a candlelight remembrance service. Or take on a volunteer activity in memory of your loved one. Gather the family and discuss ideas so everyone feels that their feelings are validated and their ideas are welcome and important.
- I want to repeat again: take care of yourself. Grieving is an exhausting experience and it is a fact that those who are experiencing grief will have a depressed immune system. Combine that with the fact that the holidays fall in the middle of the flu and cold season and you have a recipe for disaster. As much as possible keep a regular schedule, eat well, exercise and try to get sufficient sleep. This can be difficult for the grieving person as insomnia is a common problem (I have had problems with insomnia ever since my brother’s death). If necessary, consider talking to your doctor about a sleep aid.
- Planning ahead for the emotional distress that the holidays are likely to bring will help you to get through them. And that is an important point: if you approach the holidays with the goal of getting through them as best as you can, rather than feeling guilty that you don’t feel the joy you use to feel, you will better navigate this difficult time and will find ways to remember your loved one that strengthen you rather than deplete you.
How You Can Help A Grieving Friend Handle The Holidays:
- If you know someone who has lost a loved one you can be a great help to them in navigating the difficult holiday season. The first thing I would recommend is something you shouldn’t do: don’t simply throw out a blanket offer such as, “If you need anything, call me.” I can guarantee you, they won’t. Instead, offer to take on a specific chore your friend might not feel up to. For instance, call them up when you are heading out to the grocery store and ask if you can pick up a few items for them. Offer to take their kids with yours to the movies so that they can have some alone time. If you know they are dreading attending some holiday function that they would normally go to at this time of year, have the courage to tell them they don’t have to go! Sometimes people just need permission. It might be the best gift you can give them, permission to take care of themselves.
- Please, please talk about their loved one! One of the most absurd ideas people have about loss is whatever you do, you shouldn’t bring up the name of the person who has passed away. The fact is, when someone is grieving their loved one is on their mind all the time, and when people tip-toe around and fail to mention them it is like they never existed! My brother had a life-long best friend who lived behind us while we were growing up. This guy is a natural comedian (he actually reminds me a lot of Jerry Seinfeld) and I love talking to him because he has so many great stories about my brother. It is so wonderful to hear someone share their memories of my brother – I haven’t forgotten him and it is nice to know that others think of him too.
- Give a gift to a charity in memory of their loved one. I do this often when I hear of a friend who has lost a family member. Don’t underestimate how much meaning this can have for your friend. Most charities will send a note to your friend letting them know of the gift, or you can send a note yourself.
- The last tip I would like to offer is that if you know anyone who has lost a child, I encourage you to contact The Compassionate Friends. This organization exists to help families that have lost a child of any age. It provides free resources not only for parents but for siblings and grandparents as well. After my brother died, one of my cousins suggested The Compassionate Friends to my parents. For many years my parents were involved in their local Compassionate Friends support group and I attended meetings and memorial services here in Tallahassee as well.
Those that are grieving during the holidays need our love and support. I can attest that the holidays can be extraordinarily difficult to deal with when your feelings are raw from a recent loss. Even years later the holidays can be a difficult time. Think of someone you know who could use some compassion and sympathy and reach out to them with a phone call, a card, or a visit. You will never know how much it means to them.Print This Post