The holidays are intended to be a time of great joy, family togetherness, gift giving and thankfulness. If someone has died, the holidays can instead evoke extreme sadness, loneliness and emptiness. While there is no right or wrong way to approach it, the following are some suggestions and guidelines that may be helpful to those experiencing a loss during this time of year.
It’s important to accept the pain of the loss and not pretend everything is normal. The first year is one of adjustment with many feelings surfacing including sadness, anxiety, anger, guilt and apathy. Finding ways to express those feelings will be beneficial. Many find talking to family and friends, journaling, exercising and listening to or playing music to be helpful in moving your feelings from within yourself to outside yourself.
Because your grief can make you feel powerless, take charge where you can and ask for what you need. Don’t let the holidays just happen but plan ahead and decide who you will spend time with, what you will eat and drink and which rituals you will keep or forgo this year.
Some people find comfort in including their loved one in holiday remembrances by wearing a hat, scarf or other personal item as a linking object. Others may create a memory table with pictures and a special candle lit throughout the holidays. For those whose grief is fresh, this may be too painful. Don’t force yourself. This is a time to be very gentle and do whatever feels right.
Grief affects us physically and emotionally, but also spiritually as well. Whatever your faith system, consider making room in your day to take a walk, meditate or pray. Healing often results when we look deeper and connect with our own well of wisdom and strength.
Every person and loss is different, so there is no one holiday plan that will work for everyone. Be as flexible as possible and communicate your needs to family and friends. Cry if tears are near and don’t be afraid to laugh. Your holidays can still be a very significant time for you. They will certainly be different and perhaps painful, but they can still be meaningful. It’s even possible they can hold peace, serenity and most of all, hope.
From all the staff of Hospice Partners of the Central Coast, we wish everyone in the community blessings of peace and love this holiday season.
Claire Aagaard is the Bereavement Coordinator for Hospice Partners of the Central Coast and is a resident of Atascadero.