At Neptune Society, we understand that the holidays can be a rough time for those who have lost a loved one, whether the loss was recent or it occurred years ago. After all, while the holidays are considered a time for gratitude and togetherness, they are also a time for remembering those who are missing from this year’s celebrations. It’s only natural to feel the loss more keenly at a time when you normally might have expected to be with a loved one.
Here are a few tips we’ve found most helpful to make it easier to cope with grief during the holidays.
Recognize your feelings. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is one of the leading experts on dealing with grief. She developed the well-known “5 Stages of Grief” model to help people suffering from grief understand their feelings so that they can heal.
The stages of grief are:
- Denial – In the denial stage, we go numb and simply try to get through each day. The world may seem overwhelming.
- Anger – It’s okay to feel anger; at God for taking your loved one from you at this time, at family members and friends who don’t seem to understand your feelings, or yourself for having these feelings. Although these feelings can be hard, they are a normal part of the process for many people.
- Bargaining – Bargaining can take many forms, from wishing that your loved one could come back, to blaming yourself or others for your loss. You may find yourself experiencing these feelings for the first time, or re-experiencing them.
- Depression – Depression is the feeling of being alone and lost, and wondering what is the point of going on with life. It is common when feeling depressed to withdraw from others and feel as if you are in a fog. When dealing with a difficult loss, depression is a normal reaction, NOT a sign that there is anything wrong with you.
- Acceptance – Acceptance, the final stage of grief, does not mean that you feel okay about your loss or that it doesn’t make you feel sad. It simply means that you begin to live again and are able to enjoy your life, even though your loved one is no longer in it.
It’s important to know that any of these feelings, and many others, are a perfectly normal part of the grieving process. Each person will experience them differently, and however you are experiencing them is what is normal for you. So don’t feel obligated to speed yourself along the process.
Kubler-Ross writes that the 5 stages of grief “are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order.” As each person is an individual and their feelings of loss might be experienced differently, you might go through them in a different order or may find, even having reached the stage of acceptance, that a difficult event – or even what is normally considered a happy event such as the holidays – can cause you to re-experience feelings of grief.
Make a Plan. Make a plan to observe the holidays in the way that feels right to you. If you don’t feel like doing anything, let that be your plan. If you want to be with family but you want to keep things low-key, that can be your plan. If you are the person who usually hosts a gathering but you aren’t up to it this year, let others know how you are feeling, and ask for help if you need it.
Be Kind to Yourself. Give yourself time and space to experience your feelings, whatever they may be. And don’t go overboard trying to do things for others without first making sure that you’re taking care of yourself. Get a few extra hours of sleep if you need them, try to eat healthy foods, and take some nice relaxing walks to get your body moving. Spend time with friends and family who care about you.
Take Time to Remember. The holidays are a time for remembering and reflecting on the year that has gone before. For a person experiencing grief, it can also be an excellent time to reflect and remember your loved one. You can do this quietly, or you can do it more publicly.
Some ideas to help you remember your loved one include:
- Saying a prayer or telling a story about your loved one at a holiday dinner.
- Asking others to share their favorite stories about your loved one.
- Writing about you and your loved one’s life together. What are the things you want to remember? You could even make a family project of it by creating a photo book, web page or memorial site.
- Consider a new tradition. If your family has always gathered in the same way for the holidays, but it doesn’t feel right anymore, or at least not this year, consider a new tradition. You could consider traveling to a new destination, taking a short day trip, or allowing someone else to host the holidays even if just this once.
Finally, it’s okay to feel as if everything has changed, because for you, it has. Part of the process of grieving is coming to accept these changes and learning that even though things are different now, there will be new adventures that life has yet to bring you.
As Dr. Kubler-Ross says, “You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.”
At Neptune Society, we are trained in helping families deal with loss, and we care deeply about the families we work with. If you have questions or need assistance in finding resources to deal with your grief at the holidays, please contact your nearest Neptune Society representative today.