This blog contains some simple and practical ideas to help get through this holiday season. I know these ideas will not fix or make things better. My hope is that these ideas will be helpful reminders for grievers to practice self–care and self-love throughout this holiday season.
Everyone grieves very differently. The needs of grievers are individualized and can change throughout the grieving process. In my years of working with the bereaved and observing my own feelings of loss, the 3 most common responses I have noticed are-
- Loss of concentration or focus
- The ‘rollercoaster’ or ‘waves’ of emotion
During the holiday season, we usually go through our checklist,
- “What do I need to do?
- “What do I need to bring?”
- “What do I need to buy for _______?”
Track how often you think of others compared to yourself throughout the day. I know the season is about giving and sharing our love with others. Many find, helping others and giving back, softens their grief and builds connection. You don’t need to stop doing that. Just consider YOU as much as you consider others. Notice how your energy shifts or changes as you begin to focus on yourself more.
Do something different/Do something familiar – Some find keeping familiar traditions can be helpful in getting through the holidays. However, it can be overwhelming to be constantly reminded of our losses during the holiday season. Traditions can easily trigger past memories and remind us of the reality of our loss. Combining new or different ways to celebrate, along with our familiar traditions, can lessen the intensity of our feelings and decrease triggers to one’s grief.
Whatever you do the first year, after a loss of a loved one, doesn’t mean that will be your new tradition. Many people have said they kept all their same traditions, even though they didn’t want to. They didn’t want others, especially their kids, to have additional losses and changes. Have a conversation with your friends and family, while planning the holidays. You might be surprised how willing they are to try something new/different when everyone's needs and feelings are addressed together. Others, put pressure on themselves to find a special way to memorialize or honor their loved one. It’s okay to do nothing or do whatever you need to do to get through that first year. What you do the first year, doesn’t have to set the precedent for the following years. Give yourself some time….
Shop Online – Shopping malls are filled with messages of celebration and holiday cheer. Music, families, couples holding hands, parents cuddling their kids can all be triggers to grief. Grievers are also easily over-stimulated – the feeling of ‘being on edge’ is often how it is described. The malls are filled with sensory overload experiences. The lights, sounds and smells can be too much to take in. If you find yourself needing to go to shopping, consider times when it is not too busy and crowded.
Regulate T.V/Movies – Many shows and movies have stories of love and loss, especially during the holiday season. Movies often provide a break or escape for a couple of hours. Research the story line a head of time or limit the shows you watch. Of course, you can’t prevent yourself from being triggered- which is not the point I am making here. It is okay to grieve. It is normal and expected to be reminded of our loved ones. Being aware and creating choices can help gain a sense of control and balance in the grief process.
Escape plan/Self-care plan – Many struggle between wanting to be social and wanting to be alone. Communicating your needs can create a feeling of safety and empowerment. Here are some of the ideas I have heard over the years.
- Drive separately or have a driver that is willing to leave when you want to leave.
- Talk to the host/ess before party. Ask for a safe, quiet place to go if you need a break-no questions asked.
- Have an ambassador. Someone who speaks for you and helps set the limits. This person can tell others you need a break or time alone. You may prefer not be asked, “How are you doing” – sometimes that direct attention can cause a flooding of emotion. Others may be open and invite people to ask how they are doing. Make your needs known.
- Tell your host you may cancel last minute, depending on how you are feeling. Mention, if you need to leave soon after arriving, please do not make a big fuss.
Ask for help and prioritize – If you want a big celebration ask for help with putting up/down tree, outdoor lights, shopping etc. Be mindful of your energy, concentration and emotional limits.
Find ‘your person’ – Ask someone if they are available if you need to talk over the holiday season. Many people don’t reach out because they are afraid of being a burden. It can help to have someone identified ahead of time. It will be much easier to call someone at night, when they have offered and want to be there for you when you most need them. Find ‘your people’ that won’t shun away from wanting to talk about your loved one and your feelings.
Drink water – I am sure this seems pretty basic but so easy to forget (remember concentration and memory can be the most affected in grief). My Master's degree internship was with the Phoenix Fire Department, as a Behavioral Health First Responder. I thought I would be using all of these great interventions and information I learned in grad school. What I learned was my most important intervention was handing out water. It not only served someone’s basic need but it also sent the message, “I care”.
Give the gifts of kindness, understanding and gentleness to yourself as you go through this holiday season.