Happy Holidays?

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family gathered at holiday tableThe Holiday Season is a time of year many of us look forward too, but what happens when the Holidays aren’t so happy? Maybe we are feeling the absence of a loved one who has passed on. Perhaps we experience family estrangement or strain with relatives. Maybe our childhood memories of the Holidays are not so joyful. As the years go by, it might become more difficult to decorate and keep up with other activities we had always done. Under these circumstances, grief can become an isolating part of an otherwise celebratory time. The good news is there are many ways we can take action – whether we are grieving, or we are offering support – to navigate the emotional and physical hurdles a Holiday may bring.

Grieving and Self-care:

An important initial step to take when grieving during the Holidays is to plan ahead by identifying your needs. Here are parts of the process you can focus on to ensure you are creating the time, the space, and the environment you need to heal.

Acknowledge your limitations: The desire to keep things like they have always been can be high during the Holidays when tradition is highly valued. For some, “business as usual” can help with coping during the Holidays. For others, this can add hurt to an already difficult time. It’s okay to say “no,” or to ask others to pick up tasks that you have been responsible for in the past. Change may be difficult, but it is a normal part of experiencing grief. Acceptance of change makes way for healing. Whatever form acceptance of change takes for you, be sure to identify when you may need a break, some help, or both.

Make time for rest: When prioritizing others has always been a part of your Holiday routine, it is important to allow yourself time to rest and recuperate. Holidays can drain our physical and emotional energy under normal circumstances; in the case of grief, even more so. Recognize what is restful for you and take the time to do it; naps, walks and quiet activities are important to recharge you for more engaging activities the Holidays may bring. Drinking plenty of water and eating well are also necessary practices for boosting yourself through the season.

Grieve your way: Avoid comparing your grieving process to that of those around you. Consider that, with grief, there is no “should.” Questioning yourself – should I be showing my grief more/less? – will increase stress levels where the goal is to decrease them. Likewise, be sure to be respectful of other’s grieving processes. It is unfair to place expectations on someone else’s process as it would be unfair for them to critique yours. Additionally, when you are worried that those around you are grieving too much or too little, you neglect your own grieving process. For all parties to heal, understanding that everyone grieves differently is key.

Remember to be vocalAfter you’ve taken the time to identify your needs, be sure to voice them to those around you. This will allow others to participate in your grieving process in the ways that are necessary and specific to you. If you need help, make that clear. If you need space, make that clear, too. The more clarity you can provide, the better for clearing obstacles in your healing process.

Caring for those Grieving:

hands giving supportMaybe you are someone who has been asked directly for help by someone who is grieving. It’s possible that someone close to you is experiencing grief, but it isn’t necessarily clear how you can help. Maybe you’ve been through a grieving Holiday season and now want to give back to others who are experiencing the same. Whichever applies to you, there are many ways we can support our friends and neighbors who are grieving this Holiday Season.

Ask and offer: If you are unsure of what can be done, ask. Some individuals who are experiencing grief may have identified their needs and are vocal and ready to share. For those that are less forthcoming, it is important to inquire. If it seems as though the griever does not want to be a burden, offer. “I am going to ‘store-x.’ Would you like me to pick up ‘y’?” “I’m putting up my decorations this afternoon and would love to stop by and help with yours, too.” Encourage them to speak their needs, and establish that they are not an inconvenience. Let them know they are loved and you appreciate their company.

Be respectful and have empathy:

  • When someone has voiced that their needs include space and alone time, honor that. Respect the limits they have set for themselves. When someone shares their feelings with you, do no claim to “know” what they are going through, even when you have comparable experience. It is a natural reaction to try to connect by telling your own story, but acknowledging their grief and their unique process is priority number one.
  • When asking and offering help to someone who has been less clear about their needs, be sure to be self-aware. There is a fine line between offering help and pressuring someone who is grieving. Repeated unsolicited advice and suggestions can add stress to their situation. Be sure to be respectful when soliciting answers or information from those grieving. Their process is about them.

Finally, there are ways we can ensure happier Holidays from both ends of the grief spectrum; whether we are currently grieving, have processed our grief, or are simply wanting to support those grieving during the Holidays.

  • Volunteer to serve others through organizations in your community. Acts of service can be an effective way to “give through your grief.” Of course, acts of service are not limited to those grieving. If you feel a pull to help out, get involved!
  • Focus on what’s being celebrated, not the celebration. Family, community, love, support, and a time to be grateful are at the center of what the Holidays have historically been about. Whether or not you are grieving, this is an important reminder. And when you are grieving, it is helpful to have those around you acknowledge the importance of getting together, rather than being caught-up with appearances, details, and the more commercial aspects of the season.

The Holiday Season is treasured by many. It is important to acknowledge that not everyone is experiencing the season this way. Every year can bring new joy and new challenge, but the tradition of giving is important for both. We can give by voicing our needs as we grieve during the Holidays, and we can give support to those who grieve. In supporting and meeting one another where we are at, we can ensure that – even during Holiday grief – we can all experience the “Happy” a Holiday has to offer.

This information was adapted from: Caldwell Hospice & Palliative Care: Coping with the Holidays hand-out.