How to Cope With the Holidays When Grieving

[ 0 ] December 18, 2013 |

sandyhookmemorialsLast Saturday marked the one-year-anniversary of the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 26 students and school workers dead. While the families of those lost requested the curious eyes of the media and others stay away from Newtown so they can remember their loved ones in private, the families did launch, a new online memorial to the victims.

To many grieving families, the holiday season may not seem like a time to look for much joy this year.

Dr. Mindy Cassel, Co-Founder of the Children’s Bereavement Center, offers several suggestions as to how families can avoid being overwhelming by the grief this holiday season. Here’s what she said…

Related: Connecticut School Shooting – Finding Hope Through Grief

It’s that time of year again. Christmas and Hanukkah music are playing on the radio and at the malls. Everyone is getting ready for the big event and cheerful greetings abound. This is the toughest season of the year for those who are grieving a loss of a loved one. Cheerfulness doesn’t resonate with grief, sadness and the pain of loss. It only further serves to isolate and differentiate those whose lives have been turned upside down by loss.

So how does one cope with the holidays when grieving? How do you celebrate and not let your grief steal all the joy from your family? Holidays tend to exacerbate our feelings of loss as memories and “triggers” surround us. The fact that holidays occur in the midst of grief means that the celebration for years to come may be bittersweet. Given that things will never be the same, the grieving family will require some changes in tradition. Grief is an adjustment process that takes time. Traditions will evolve as you adjust and you will integrate the memory of your loved one into your holiday celebrations. Here are some things to consider:

  • Nix traditions. You don’t have to do what you have always done; changing things up may provide a source of relief and reduce the stress of the holidays. Sharing the holiday in a different location, having a lunch instead of dinner, or going on a vacation may help at this time.
  • Plan together will give a sense of control at this confusing time. Getting everyone’s input whose involved, including the kids, may help you preserve the most important traditions and address the most pressing concerns. Planning also helps alleviate the anxiety of anticipation. If you change the plans, that’s okay, too!
  • Take time for yourself. Not an easy thing to do, but remember that exercise, relaxation and downtime help most when we are stressed. Think of the metaphor of putting oxygen on yourself first on the airplane, before you adjust the mask on your child. You can’t help others unless you yourself are able to breathe.
  • Reduce your expectations. Grief is exhausting and brings significant fatigue. The demands of the holidays tend to be overwhelming.  Ask less of yourself and your grieving family, doing only what feels most important and with reasonable expectations given your current circumstances.
  • Give yourself a blank check to do what feels right for you and your family.We often want to please

    Dr. Mindy Cassel

    others around the holidays, but this is a good time to follow your heart and say no to requests and invitations that are not helpful, feel uncomfortable, or require too much effort.

  • Memorialize the lost loved one. Here again, family suggestions may be very helpful. The ritual may be as simple as lighting a candle or as elaborate as preparing dad’s favorite meal. Whatever you choose, it helps to acknowledge the person and the loss, relieving tension and helping everyone to relax. It allows our loved ones past and present to be with us on the holidays.

WATCH: You Can’t ‘Calculate What Your Loved One Is Worth’ 

Remember that there is no quick fix for the pain of loss. The aftermath of loss is one of adaptation and adjustment.

As we grieve and integrate our loss, we develop a new perspective, regain our balance and develop a “new normal.”  The greatest tools in this process are self care and love of family and friends.

We wish you all a happy, healthy and healing holiday and year to come.

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Category: Loss & Grieving, Relationships

Profile photo of Mindy Cassel, Ph.D., C.T.

About Mindy Cassel, Ph.D., C.T.: Mindy Cassel, Ph.D., C.T., is Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Children's Bereavement Center® (CBC). She is a Licensed Psychologist and Certified Thanatologist. As Executive Director, she oversees the CBC's operations, management, planning, and financial [...]
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