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Grieving and the Holiday Season

It was finally Christmastime, the best time of the year. Houses are strung with tiny coloured lights, windows shining with a warm glow only Christmas could bring. The scent of pine needles and hot cocoa wafting through the air and the sounds of Christmas in the distance. Everyone is happy and full of holiday cheer. Everyone except for you who are grieving the loss of a loved one. The feeling of Christmas cheer is replaced with feeling sad and alone.

Holidays are a challenging time, and it is even more difficult when grieving the loss of someone. There's an empty seat at the table and a big space in your heart. You often feel overwhelmed with emotions and lose the ability to celebrate.

Often, those around you just don't understand the depths of your grief, especially during the holidays. As a result, the sadness deepens, and the loneliness can feel isolating. In trying to make you feel better, their words make you feel worse. Sometimes they tell us that it's time to move on. Or our loved one wouldn't want us to be sad. And we might even put pressure on ourselves during the holidays feeling like we need to be strong for others, and so our grief takes a back seat.

It is essential that you give yourself permission to put you first this holiday season. You are not being selfish. On the contrary, you are prioritizing your own health and welfare. With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it's okay to take time for yourself. Whether it's a walk alone, a day in bed or some other momentary escape. Be gentle with yourself; grief work is hard; it can be exhausting.

Remember, it's okay to be sad and cry when it hurts. As much as we want to bottle it all up, don't. If you have 500 tears to cry, don't stop at 250. If you are afraid, you won't stop. Set a timer for an amount of time you feel is appropriate. Have a good cry and when the timer goes off, move your body, go for a walk, or call a friend.

It's also okay to be happy and enjoy the holidays. It doesn't mean that you have forgotten your loved one or are being disrespectful. Living life is a beautiful way to honour your loved one. It's okay to smile when you are happy and laugh when something is funny and not feel guilty about any of it.

It's also okay not to share your feelings with others all the time. However, if you need of sharing your feelings, journal, call a friend, go to a grief group with others who are experiencing the same. Or consider seeing a counsellor; this might be the time to reach out for professional help.

Decide where and what you would like to do during this year's holidays. It may bring you comfort to keep things the same, or you may want to change. Remember, you can always change it again next year.

Don't do more than you want to. Don't do anything that does not serve your soul and your grief. Prioritize and don't over-commit. Save your energy for the important things, make a list and rank them. Skip holiday events; if you are feeling overloaded and overwhelmed, especially if your grief is not well understood, it's okay to not go. Don't feel guilty.

If you choose to go, go with a plan; don't get trapped. Drive yourself and leave if it gets too much. Decide what you do want to talk about or what you don't want to talk about. If you are not up for the conversation on how you are doing, simply say, I am fine and redirect the conversation. And know it can change from one moment to the next. It's okay to change your mind over and over during any get-together, event or party. You may not know what you can or cannot handle until faced with it.

Communicate with the people around you. It is okay, to be honest. Let them know you are not feeling merry, cheerful or festive. Let them know what you do want to do or don't want to do.

Make a list and check it twice. Unfortunately, our brains don't always work well when experiencing grief.

Ask for or say yes to help. Everyone needs a little help sometimes. Identify those who will be helpful and who may not be and choose the helpful ones. Ignore people who want to tell you what you should be doing.

Consider becoming involved in something that helps others; it might in turn, also help you. For example, consider volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating to a family in need.

Decide on the traditions you want to keep or change or new traditions you might want to start in memory of your loved one this year. It's okay to change traditions. Traditions are supposed to bring comfort, not distress. And if they don't work out as you like, you can always change them again next year or bring back the ones you miss. Remember your loved one in a way that is meaningful to you. Here are a few suggestions...

  • Create a memory box or a memory stocking. Write a treasured memory and place them inside. Invite others to share a memory or keep it to yourself.

  • Pull out old photo albums and reminisce.

  • Create a holiday montage of past holiday photos.

  • Cook your loved one's favourite foods.

  • Visit your loved one's gravesite and leave a meaningful holiday item.

  • Send holiday cards to people you have lost touch with. Or don't send any at all.

  • Play your loved one's favourite holiday music.

  • Light a candle and leave a place at the table for them OR if that is too depressing, invite someone to join your table.

  • Seek gratitude, look for the little things.

  • Send gifts or don't send gifts.. gift giving can be stressful, talk with your family and come up with a plan.

  • Skip or minimize decorations.

  • Make a donation, buy a gift and donate it.

  • Make a memorial ornament.

  • Watch your loved one's favourite holiday movies.

  • Stressed about holiday cooking, order out, order in.

  • Have a moment of silent reflection for your loved one.

  • Splurge on a gift for you.

Finally, in all the hustle and bustle, take care of you. Find some quiet time, meditate, journal, play some music, do something that you find soothing. Remember to watch your food and alcohol intake. Feeling good in the moment can lead to feeling even worse later. Drink lots of water, get outside, shower, care for something, move your body, say yes, say no.

You can, and you will get through the holidays. And it's okay to try again next if this year does not turn out the way you want. Remember, not everyone grieves the same... just as every snowflake is different, so is our grief. This holiday season is about you; you doing the things you need to make it through the best way possible. So find what feels best for you and honouring your loved one.

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