The pain of grief tends to surface with great intensity during “milestone” events. Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays are typical events that are associated with our grief journeys. The intensity of grief is usually highest for many during the first year that these milestone events are experienced. However, people will experience pain of varying intensity during these milestone events beyond the first year. There is no timetable to resolve grief and in many cases; journeys are lifelong. Experiencing pain at any time during the process is to be expected.
Under normal circumstances, preparing for any holiday can be stressful as well as tiring. When a loved one dies, completing these holiday tasks become complicated by the intense pain of grief and the physical, emotional, and cognitive changes that accompany it. Our grief may be so painful that we question whether to celebrate the holidays at all.
Although there are no sure solutions as to how to prepare for the holidays, there are some things that may be helpful:
- Educate yourself by reading books or articles on grief and attending a lecture on coping with the holidays.
- Identify strengths or strategies that helped you adjust to previous losses in your life. These may be losses related to death or losses not related to death (e.g., divorce).
- Try to develop as much support from family and friends as you can. Tell them that the holidays may be emotionally and physically draining for you, and how they can best help you during this time.
- Allow some time to feel sad. Have a good cry if you need to.
- Be careful with use of alcohol and medications, either separately or together.
- Save your energy for the most important things.
- Delegate! Let others share the workload by preparing food and helping with decorations.
- If you need quiet time, take it.
- If you aren’t up to a large family affair, have a scaled down gathering with a few close family members and friends.
Others may have difficulty saying the name of your loved one for fear of upsetting you or because they are uncomfortable with their own feelings. You may decide to initiate the discussion of your loved one and may be hesitant to do so because it may be very painful. That is completely understandable, but the pain may be lessened or replaced by joy due to some wonderful shared memories. Plus, we want to say and hear the names of our loved ones.
The anticipation of the holiday season and the days leading up to it may be more stressful than the actual day. Also, if there are certain holiday functions that you don’t have the emotional strength to confront, it is ok to avoid them. Remember, you can grieve as you see fit!
Updated: December 23, 2014