How to deal with grief around Christmas

Facing the holidays while dealing with grief is challenging, so plan ahead and be kind to yourself.

Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim. – Vicki Harrison

After losing a loved one, it becomes difficult to face any kind of celebration without them.  This may be particularly true during the festive season.  First let me start by saying that grief is experienced differently by everyone.  There is no one way, or right way to do it.  Over time, the loss and feeling of grief may change, however, it is something we carry with us forever.

During the holidays, a lot of people around us are excited, happy and give off the idea that one should automatically feel good and excited at this time of year.  This is not true for the average person, and more so for someone who is grieving a loved one during this period. 

A lot of people who are experiencing loss, sometimes mention that they feel conflicted during such times.  This is understandable, as enjoying something – anything – feels wrong when mourning someone.  Not that it is.  It just feels that way.  It also feels uncomfortable to be surrounded by so much joyous people when you are feeling so low. Here are a few things that can help:

1. Set boundaries and realistic expectations on yourself

When attending any holiday events, make sure not to put any pressure on yourself.  Ask yourself whether you feel up for it and check in with your feelings.  Unfortunately, some family or friends might put pressure on you to participate. However, know that you can decline any invitation that comes your way.  Having said that, another option would be to attend for only an hour or two; and remind yourself that you can leave an event early.  Sometimes, participating can be helpful too.  Don’t expect too much of yourself, remind yourself that this year will be different.

2. Plan ahead

Planning ahead can go a long way with avoiding unnecessary moments of grief.  What do I mean?  If ‘dad’ used to dress up as Santa for the children, plan for someone else to fill that role, so as to make the transition a little bit easier for the whole family.

3. Honour old traditions, while creating new ones

Honouring old traditions can help keep the spirit of our loved ones alive, even if they are no longer with us.  Creating new traditions may also help with healing and with the creation of a ‘different’ life, after our loved ones leave us.  This doesn’t mean that we are in any way erasing old memories – but rather making space for new ones.  Our loved ones want us to be happy.  Light a candle in honour of your loved one.

4.  Find comfort by volunteering

Consider doing something for the greater good; or donate something in honour of your loved one.  Volunteer at a shelter or invite someone who would otherwise be alone during this time of year.  It is said that in service of others, we heal and ease our own pain.

5. Coping skills

Grief can hit you at any unexpected moment. Make sure you prepare yourself with some skills that will help you cope with these emotions in that difficult moment.  These skills may include breathing exercises, listening to your music playlist or taking a walk alone.

6.  If it becomes too much to bear, ask for help

Seek the support you deserve.  You don’t have to go through this alone – whether it’s asking your friends, family or even co-workers, make sure to reach out.  The holidays can be a difficult season to go through, whatever your reasons may be.  A therapist can also offer support during this challenging period. At the end of the day, please remember to be kind to yourself.  This season isn’t always as merry as it’s portrayed to be, and it’s ok to approach it with some apprehension.  Know that you are not alone, and that there isn’t any right or wrong way how to feel when you are grieving.

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