By Becky Lomaka, MA, CT
Director of Grief Support and Education O’Connor Mortuary
There are few periods that are as difficult for those who are grieving than the holidays, starting with Thanksgiving and culminating with the New Year.
Here are a few tips to not just cope with your grief during the holidays, but to engage in your grief and grow in it.
Admit the holidays are hard
Holidays are hard under the best of circumstances. We tend to eat more poorly, over-commit to activities, and struggle with meeting all the expectations we think others have. But when you’re grieving, what is normally manageable can become overwhelming. The beginning point is acknowledging that you can’t do everything and be everything that everybody expects.
Make your plans and check them twice
Give yourself the gift of anticipation. Determine where the most difficulties will lie. Mark down on your calendar which days are going to be most difficult for you. Just pinpointing those days helps suck the wind out of them. Renegotiate the rules – maybe pass the torch of hosting the meal. Take an active role in deciding how the day will go.
Consider the cost of withdrawal
Move toward people and not away. You might feel like avoiding people and putting limits on your socializing is surely a good idea. But be careful about avoiding others all together; the cost of withdrawal is high. Instead of always avoiding people, explain what you need and work to do some things others want just because you are in relationship with them.
Create something new
One thing that makes the holidays so hard is that at every turn we are reminded that what used to be is no longer. Holidays are steeped in tradition; use this time to create something new. New rituals, observances, or routines help you mark this new chapter of life. Donate to a cause, volunteer, use your talents to help someone else. Use symbols and ritual; light a candle, tell stories, make a favorite meal. In addition to traditional holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, anniversaries and other special days can be extremely hard. Creating rituals around these days can be comforting.
Contemplate your spiritual roots
Grief is a spiritual experience and the holidays have roots in who we are spiritually. Recapture that in your grief. Worship, reading, prayer or meditation might help you restore balance during the holiday season.
Take good care of your physical well-being
This can be especially hard during the holidays, yet it is incredibly important. Eat well – make sure your nutrition is healthy in content and avoid or limit caffeine, alcohol and processed sugars. Exercise – walk, play a sport, work out; move your body every day. Rest – remember your body knows what it needs. If you’re eating right and exercising appropriately, you might just find the sleep takes care of itself.
Reach out for assistance
The vast majority of us eventually do fine with our grief. If you are feeling stuck, reach out for support. Grief support groups are available throughout Orange County and online.
Our grief is never finished. Holidays and special days may bring a tinge of grief and sadness forever. Reframe your thoughts to see this as powerful and cherished gifts. Remember to “make a list and check it twice” – planning and preparing for these difficult days helps ease the anxiety associated with them. It’s ok to do what YOU want and not what you think you SHOULD do. Rather than avoiding grief, pursue an open relationship with it. Too often we set up strict structures for ourselves to feel control, to convince ourselves that “this is the way grief gets done,” and we miss the beautiful fluidity of moments and memories that burst up and surprise us with the pain and shimmer of past joy.
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