Coping With Holiday Grief

At holiday time, many people are dealing with loss and are often caught in a dilemma between the need to grieve and the pressure to get into the spirit of the season. Holidays or not, it is important for the bereaved to find ways to take care of themselves.

The following guidelines may be helpful:

1.    Plan ahead as to where and how you will spend your time during the holidays. Let yourself scale back on activities if you want to. Redefine your holiday expectations. This can be a transition year to begin new traditions and let others go.

2.    Select a candle in your loved one’s favorite color and scent. Place it in a special area of your home and light it at a significant time throughout the holidays, signifying the light of the love that lives on in your heart.

3.    Give yourself permission to express your feelings. If you feel an urge to cry, le the tears flow. Tears are healing. Scientists have found that certain brain chemicals in our tears are natural pain relievers.

4.    Shakespeare once said, “Give sorrow words…” Write an “un-sent letter” to your loved one expressing what you are honestly feeling toward him or her at this moment. After you compose the letter, you may decide to place it in a book, album, or drawer in your home, leave it at a memorial site, throw it away, or even burn it and let the ashes rise symbolically.

5.    When you are especially missing your loved one, call family members or dear friends and share your feelings. If they knew him or her, consider asking them to share some memories of times they shared with your loved one.

6.    If you live within driving distance of the cemetery, decorate the memorial site with a holiday theme. This could include flowers, garlands, ribbons, bows, evergreen-branches, packages, pinecones, or a miniature Christmas tree. Decorating the site yourself can be helpful in remembering and celebrating your loved one’s life during the holidays, and may free you to cherish the present holiday with your remaining family.

7.    Play music that is comforting and meaningful to you. Take a few moments to close your eyes and feel the music within the center of your being.

8.    Give money you would have spent for gifts for your absent loved one to a charity in your family member’s name. Consider donating money to the public library to buy a particular book. Have the book dedicated to your loved one’s memory. Buy a present for a child who would not otherwise have a gift during the holiday season.

9.    Read a book or article on grief. Some suggestions are:
Don’t’ Take My Grief Away From Me” by Doug Manning
The Comfort Book for Those Who Mourn” compiled by Anna Trimiew
A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis

10.    Remember the reality that the anticipation of the holidays without your family member is often harder than the actual holidays themselves.

Tell us how you have coped with grief during a difficult holiday season… What helped you through it?


Adapted from “Ten Ways to Cope with Holiday Grief” by L. B. Schultz, Carmel, Indiana. Reprinted with permission from Bereavement Magazine 5125 North Union Blvd., Suite #4, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80918-2056.

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Thinking About the Holiday Season

Somewhere around the middle of October we begin to consider all that we want to happen for the upcoming holiday season. It starts slowly — little hints of fall weather and a few colorful leaves. Then comes the cooler nights and better sleeping weather… If we are lucky we rest better once the heat of the summer has passed… We want oatmeal for breakfast. Grab a sweater as we head out the door in the morning, taking along our mug of coffee or tea rather than that tumbler filled with ice water. Lunchtime has us craving good soup. Butternut squash is one of my favorites. The stores are filled with mounds of Halloween candy that we try to resist, and countless costume shops have opened their doors, drawing us in to view their artistic and gruesome displays. Pumpkin patches decorate the region. The air has a crisp unique scent that is distinctly known to us as autumn.

We move through the Halloween festivities without too much trouble except perhaps some cranky “kid” moments when the costume isn’t just right or the friends aren’t cooperating with the group trick-or-treat plans or the parents put a stop to eating too much candy at one time. We survive, hopefully with a few laughs and not much of a bellyache.

But looming off in the not-too-distant future is Thanksgiving, then Hanukkah, then Christmas, to name a few (and in our household, a ton of birthdays!)

(Advice to share: Don’t get pregnant in March. Your kids will hate you for giving them a December birthday, which typically falls second to holiday festivities and is always when fall semester finals roll out! Our solution to that dilemma is to make a big deal out of “half-birthdays” in June. We go out for an ice cream treat when we are fortunate enough to be together!)

Those of us who are planners generally start well in advance to communicate with other family members and friends about “what” is going to happen “where” and “when.” There are attempts to make concrete decisions, often a rather difficult process because everybody seems to have a different idea of how the holiday should be spent.  It gets more complicated once the group gets into “who” is going to do “what,” and if something has to change “how” and “when,” and “who” is going to make all the necessary arrangements.

So, it gets pretty complicated with many competing needs and wants to consider layered over all the changes that have occurred since the last time the family gathered for shared holidays. Maybe there is a deceased relative, or a new baby, or a different spouse of boyfriend… And those who are planners have a tendency to take on the lion’s share of the work and responsibility, growing more and more resentful of the huge burden they carry. The world indeed needs “planners,” but to have such a “gift” can be not only a blessing under certain circumstances, but also a curse.

Then there are those who never plan, waiting until the last moment to pull something together creating a rather intense crisis period that can be extremely stressful, keeping others affected “on pins and needles.”  Certainly others can actually become angry with those who have not been able to provide more structure and predictability to the shared holiday gatherings. Anger about “not doing your part in time…” So, tensions can easily escalate. Accusations and finger-pointing can be an unpleasant outcome.

Yet, most of us want to celebrate in a meaningful way with those we love and enjoy during this very special time of year. Finding the best way, the least stressful way, a way that offers connectivity and good will is what we strive for — a fair and equitable balance of competing and conflicting needs and wants for a group of folks tightly or loosely called our “family.” How do we do this?

  • Start with clear and honest communication about needs and wants.
  • Listen with an open mind and heart. Don’t judge or label.
  • Develop a preparation timeline. Build in time for self-care first.
  • Make charts and lists to show who is responsible for what. Share with all who are part of your family.
  • Use a standard and shared problem-solving strategy to work through the rough spots. They will surface.
  • Let go of or eliminate anything that is not necessary to meet the core goals for the group. (The ideal of the Normal Rockwell era is unattainable. Fact.)
  • Remain patient, tolerant, and forgiving throughout. There are high hopes and expectations during the holiday season, and disappointment and short fuses are to be expected.
  • Keep it simple. Get adequate rest. Eat healthy. Take long walks.
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Message from a Past President

Stumbled across this quote from a July 15, 1979 speech given by President Jimmy Carter…

“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose… This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.”

Carter continued to say…

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure. [The other path is the] path of common purpose and the restoration of American values.”

Carter proposed “a bold conservation program” that would enlist “every average American” in overcoming the energy crisis.

This speech and it’s message did not sit well with the American people, Carter lost his re-election, and I wonder if our lives would be better today if we had taken him seriously back in 1979…

On the plus side, my nice neighbors are taking time to visit each other more and offer assistance when needed. More people are out walking and sharing the simple things we so often take for granted. Most of us are more comfortable than in years past to wear the same old sweater. We are more inclined to fix something rather than quickly replace it. And I have discovered a fun group of women who would rather share recipes and cook together than go out to lunch… Perhaps Jimmy Carter’s warning is beginning to get our attention…


Posted in Aging, Anxiety & Stress, Grief & Loss, Middle Age, Retirement, Self-Care, Work & Family | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment