Grief is difficult at any time of the year. But if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one this season you might be wondering how to get through the merry ho-ho expectations and stress inherent in the holidays.
It takes some thought and pre-planning but it is possible to survive the next few weeks intact and healthy.
So, here are 10 TIPS from which you can pick and choose the ones that will work best for you.
- Acknowledge that the Holiday Season Will be Difficult
Many people find that the mere anticipation of the season is often worse than the actual holiday. Somehow the “big day”, whatever it is, often seems anticlimactic in light of the expectations. It’s going to be a difficult time – but you will survive.
- Create a Ritual
Rituals, simple symbolic actions that help you feel connected to your loved one, seem particularly helpful at this time of the year. Common rituals include lighting a memory candle at the holiday dinner or placing a remembrance bulb on the tree. As you create your own rituals, be creative; what about using music, art, cooking, or story-telling?
- Plan New Activities
A loved one’s absence often seems more obvious in familiar settings and activities. Many people find it helpful to make plans to spend the holidays somewhere new, and somehow differently. In fact, making several alternative plans seems to work even better; for example, if Plan A is dinner at a friend’s home, Plan B might be going to the movies instead. Having a choice seems to work wonders for lowering stress levels during the holidays.
- Help Others
From the strengthening of your immune system, to the release of the “feel good hormones”, endorphins, you can’t beat helping others for immediate health benefits this holiday season. Join others serving dinner at a Drop-in center, or spend some quiet time walking the animals in a rescue shelter. Even if it’s cleaning the snow off your neighbour’s car, those hormones are going to start flowing.
- Make a Donation
Making a charitable donation in your loved one’s name can help you feel connected to them. Giving to help others who are also grieving this season may be particularly meaningful. The Alberta Hospice Palliative Care Association “Memory Snowflakes” is one place to start – www.ahpca.ca .
- Take it Easy on Yourself
Be nice to yourself. If you’re invited to parties or gatherings that you would rather avoid, don’t go. It is fine to say: “No, thank you – perhaps next year.” Rest as much as possible –naps are for adults as well.
- Drink WATER
Now drink some more. Drinking plenty of water will help your brain cope with the challenging physical effects of grieving. If you become dehydrated, you’re more likely to struggle with confusion and becoming easily emotional, so keep re-filling that large glass of water.
- Listen to Your Favourite Music
Think of those songs that make you sigh and feel as if the world is a great place to be. That’s the music for your ears every day – it will change your brain, your hormones, and your state of well-being. It’s easy, inexpensive and one the most effective de-stressors you’ll do this season.
- Practice Coping Mantras
Coping mantras are easy to remember phrases to use when you need some self-encouragement: “Be sad. It’s allowed – grief doesn’t take holidays.” “Laugh. It’s allowed – life goes on.” What other coping mantras are you already saying to get through the day?
ACCEPT HELP. Let others assist with the holiday decorating, shopping, baking, wrapping, cleaning, greeting cards, cooking, and so on. In fact, which of these tasks do NOT need to be done this year at all? Don’t do them!
People want to help you; give them the opportunity to reap the benefits of helping others, as well. You don’t need to face the holidays alone. Find your community’s hospice support and services on AHPCA’s online Directory Resource.
The bottom line? Do whatever YOU need to do to get through the holidays. Grief may not take a break, but hopefully you’ll not only cope, but even find some peace and joy this holiday season.
Written by Wendy Kurchak, CT (ADEC), B.Ed., DipN
Alberta Hospice Palliative Care Association