At some point, we all cope with grief and loss during the holidays. If this isn’t your year for the blues, I’m glad. Perhaps you’ll want to forward this to someone else who is sad these days. I developed this information for folks who celebrate Christmas, but I’m sure it would be useful for others as well.

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Coping with Loss and Grief During the Holiday Season

Grief can be a life-long process, as we incorporate painful losses into our lives – the death of beloved friends and family, the loss of our health, broken relationships, jobs changes and other major transitions.The holidays can be an especially difficult time for the bereaved, even years after a loss. We experience the “holiday blues” simply because holidays bring up memories and highlight changes in our lives. Remember, you are not alone. Many people would welcome a few quiet moments during this busy season to listen to you and to share a few memories of their own. Reach out and let people know how you are feeling. Below are a few tips to help you make it through.

Stay Connected with your Feelings

Give yourself permission to feel and express your emotions. Make sure to create time and space to honor your feelings. There is no ‘right way’ to do this – write in a journal, go for a walk, meditate and pray, exercise. Be present with your own grief and by all means, cry if you need to. Tears are an emotional release and help cleanse our bodies of toxins. If others are uncomfortable with your tears, that’s just something they will have to work on for themselves. This is your grief and your holiday. And if a little happiness or even joy creeps in this year, embrace it. Don’t feel guilty. Mixed emotions are normal during bereavement, especially during this season.

Be Kind to Yourself

Get plenty of rest, eat nourishing foods and drink lots of water. Try to avoid excessive alcohol and sweets, which can contribute to depression and stunt your grieving process by numbing your feelings. Put your health and healing first. Simplify and try not to over-do social engagements, shopping, decorating and other holiday “musts.” Do what you can, but give yourself permission to miss a party or buy cookies instead of baking them. Skip the Christmas cards unless they help you process. Slow down. Take a bubble bath, a tea break, read a book, get a massage. Treat yourself as you would treat a dear friend who has been bereaved. Be alone when you need to, and reach out when you want company.

Communicate your Feelings and Needs

Let people know how you are feeling. Tell them what you can handle, and what is too much for you. Be open about what you want to talk about and what you would rather not. Ask for help with chores, errands, and decorating. Guide your friends and family in the best way to help you. You are not a burden. People feel good about helping and just need to know what you need.

Say No to Expectations and Comparisons

Don’t try to live up to expectations of how you should feel or act – your own or other people’s. You may even feel expectations from your deceased loved one, “She would have wanted me to…” You might think that Godly people should not be sad or depressed – but Jesus wept and grieved for people and places. Try not to compare yourself or your family with others. Everyone grieves in different ways – give yourself plenty of space and grace. Accept your limitations and don’t beat yourself up.

Plan Ahead

Don’t allow the holidays to simply happen to you. Give yourself as much control as you can; know where you will be, and when. Keep your schedule manageable. Decide which activities and traditions are helpful and which are not, and and politely decline invitations. Choose to be with safe, supportive people and put off “obligations.” Make time to be alone with your feelings.Try taking your family and other people in smaller doses – look into staying in a hotel or plan an “escape break” to a park or a movie during your holiday activities.

Create or Eliminate Traditions and Rituals

Talk to your family and decide which rituals and traditions are healing. Some may be too painful. Compromise with each other. Incorporate memories of your loved one into your holiday. Write poems or prayers, light a candle, create a memorial piece of artwork together. Hang a new ornament, volunteer at a nonprofit that your loved one supported. Remember that what you do this year doesn’t have to be repeated next year. You may choose a new ritual next year. Do what feels right for you now.

Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help

If you are feeling overwhelmed or immobilized by negative or destructive emotions, don’t try to be super human. There are many support groups and programs that can help. Most counties have a hospice grief group and counselors. 

Remember: You Will Survive

This time of year will likely be the most difficult season of your grief. But you will get through it. Our anticipation of the holidays is always worse than the holiday itself. You don’t have to enjoy the holidays; you don’t even have to pretend. Pray, rest and be kind to yourself. Remember that “the God of all comfort” is with you, whether you can sense it or not. You are not alone.

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