Around this time of the year, preparations are beginning for the upcoming holidays, with Thanksgiving upon us in the next week and Christmas soon to follow. What is a joyful sharing time for many can be a lonely, disappointing and anxiety-filled time for the people who have experienced the death of a loved one.
We live in a world where people assume that the holiday season is a happy magical time for everyone. This is not true for someone who has suffered the death of a loved one. The pain of their grief can be intensified during this time. You may feel depressed or exhausted and not able to cope with the fast pace of the holiday season. The following are some suggestions to assist you to better prepare for this year's holiday celebrations.
Start early to think about your holiday plans: What will make you feel the most comfortable? This may be painful to do as you will have to think about your past holidays with your loved one and how things will be different this year. What do you think will be the most difficult about your holidays this year? Who do you need to talk to about the upcoming holidays? What feels important to you at this time? Asking yourself these questions are just the beginning, but the holidays are not going to go away, so it is important to start thinking about them.
Be patient and realistic: There will always be people who may think they know what is best for you and want to go ahead and make your plans. Some may find this helpful, but to others it may be upsetting. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to handle your celebrations, just as there is no right or wrong way to handle your grieving. Only you know what feels right for you. Others may want you to "just be happy" and join in the celebrations they have planned. Be gentle with yourself. You are grieving. It is OK to say "no" if it just doesn't feel right for you.
Let your plans and limits be known: Only do what you are able to do and feel comfortable with this upcoming holiday season. Give yourself permission to grieve. Allow the tears to flow: This is a normal expression of grief and helps you to heal. Make sure you allow time for rest and exercise along with eating well. If you listen carefully to what you heart and body are telling you, the holidays will pass more peacefully and you will experience healing.
Consider the following: Recognize that family gatherings may be difficult. Spend your holiday time with friends and family who you find supportive and bring you comfort. Remember that grieving is both emotional and physical work. Have a response ready when well meaning people wish you a "Happy Holiday." Keep the memory of your loved one alive. Attend the local bereavement lunch to share your grief and gain support. The anticipation of any holiday is often worse then the holiday itself.
Editor's note: Sarah Baratono, LMSW, is social worker and bereavement coordinator at Aspirus Keweenaw Home Health &?Hospice.