Handling the Holidays
The holiday season is anything but happy to many bereaved families. The expectations that we should be jolly just seem to add to our already full emotional plates. While we cannot fast forward through holidays, there are things that can be done to help us get through those challenging times of the year.
Change Your Expectations
The experience of grief is already using most of your emotional resources and so you should not expect to be able to heap on the typical holiday season and all of its usual demands. Expect that you will not be able to function in the same way that you have in the past during this time of year. This is not a sign that there is anything wrong with you, but rather it is recognition that your heart has been broken and needs time to heal. If you broke your leg would you really expect to run a marathon eight weeks later? I hope not! In the same way it is normal that a person who has experienced a significant death is not ready to join the usual holiday festivities in the same way as before the death occurred. Be kind to yourself.
Change the Holiday Traditions (or not)
The holiday season cannot be the same as it was when you had your loved one with you, and so it is understandable that you might want to change the way that your family handles the holidays. It is appropriate and normal that you would prefer to not do things exactly the same as before, and it is also okay if you prefer to maintain the traditions in the same way. The key is to do whatever makes it easiest for you to get through the season.
Grief takes time and energy, and it is exhausting work. Therefore, accept that there is just not going to be the same level of energy for the holidays as before the death. Trying to maintain a busy visiting/decorating/cooking/partying schedule is an excellent recipe for an emotional meltdown. Stand in front of your mirror and practice that word that you can use to help take care of yourself during this hectic time of year: "no." Staying home with a good book may be the very best way to take care of yourself this holiday season.
Educate Family and Friends
Before the holiday frenzy begins is an excellent time to educate family and friends about what you are going to need in the coming weeks. Consider telling key family members that you may need to skip some of the festivities this year, and to please share that information with other family members. Ask that family and friends respect whatever choices you need to make during this time, even if it means not showing up for the family dinner. Let them know that one of the best ways to help you is to allow you to find your own way through this challenging season.
This is an excellent time to reach out and ask for extra support from caring friends and family, or by joining a support group. Identify two or three people who have been especially helpful to you and let them know that this could be a hard time, and you may need extra support during the coming weeks. People who love you want to help - you are doing a kindness by letting them.
Remember Your Loved One
Your loved one will be ever present in your heart, and perhaps especially so during the time of year when families gather together. There is no reason not to include your loved one in tangible ways during the holidays. If you celebrate Christmas, hang his/her stocking and ask everyone to write a favorite memory to be read on Christmas morning. Buy gifts for your loved one and donate them to a community agency. Make a contribution in his/her name. There are many ways to include your loved one in the holidays.
Skip the Guilt
The last thing I want to include is the importance of staying out of the "Guilt Trap." You are doing the hardest thing that nobody wants to do - you are surviving the death of someone you love. Anything else that you accomplish is icing on the cake so please do not burden yourself with guilt. Decline invitations, skip the holiday cards and just say no to baking six-dozen cookies - and don’t feel an ounce of guilt for being a person with a broken heart.