Holidays are often seen as a time for family, friends, and loved ones, but if you’re dealing with a recent loss, the holiday season can be a challenging time.
Learning to navigate new rituals and traditions can be difficult, especially when your loss feels so fresh. Memories of past holidays with your loved one and seeing others celebrate might magnify your grief, so it is especially important to find effective ways of coping during this time.
“Our grief is as individual as our lives.” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Author of On Death and Dying
If you’ve recently lost a loved one, the holiday season might change the tenor of your grief or make it more intense. The sights, sounds, and smells of the holidays can trigger memories and waves of emotion, though perfectly normal, can be difficult to navigate.
It can be helpful to remember that these challenges are faced by many people. In fact, there are entire books written about coping with grief during holidays.
In one Holiday Hope: Remembering Loved Ones During Special Times, author Richard Obershaw presents some of the reasons why grieving people struggle around holidays:
- It can feel selfish to be grieving at a time when gratitude, selflessness,
and joyousness are expected.
- Families often come together during holidays, which can bring up difficult emotions not only from the recent loss but also from other unresolved issues.
- Music is a profound trigger for many people, and holiday music, which is often about togetherness and love, is virtually unavoidable.
- Holiday festivities may involve alcohol, which is a depressant.
- Planning and preparing for holiday activities can be exhausting, compounding the exhaustion that many grieving people already experience.
The good news is there are ways to deal with your grief during the holidays.
8 tips for coping with your grief this holiday season
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR FEELINGS-You may be feeling a range of emotions, from sadness and loneliness to anger and anxiety. If your loved one experienced pain and illness prior to their death, you may even feel gratitude that the suffering has ended.
It is okay to feel whatever you are feeling. Allow yourself to grieve in whatever way is best for you.
Understand that the grieving process is not linear. Although people sometimes refer to the "five stages of grief" (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), your experience is unique.
When your loss is recent, it can be tempting to try to accelerate the healing process. It takes time, though, so be patient with yourself.
seek support-Whether it is talking to a therapist, attending a support group, or leaning on family and friends, it's important to have people you can rely on when you are grieving. These people can provide much-needed love and support during this difficult time.
Grief counseling (or bereavement counseling) can be especially beneficial in helping you process your loss. If your employer has an employee assistance program, they can guide you to resources that will help.
It may be tempting to withdraw during the holidays, as you try to avoid "burdening" family and friends with your grief. However, try to remember that your loved ones understand and often want to give you support.
Have Realistic expectations-The first holiday season without a loved one will bring many new experiences and feelings. Give yourself space to do what feels right for you by setting realistic expectations for yourself - and for others.
The holidays often come with grand expectations. Decorating, baking, and spending time with others can become overwhelming even for those who haven’t experienced a recent loss. If participating in holiday activities brings you happiness, then do it. On the other hand, it is perfectly okay to respectfully skip what doesn’t feel right at the time.
plan ahead-You can’t always anticipate how you will feel about something in the future but try to think about possible triggers for your grief ahead of time if possible. For example, knowing that “Dad always carved the turkey,” allows you to ensure that someone else will fill that role this time.
If you’re participating in social events, it can also be helpful to plan for the possibility that you may wish to exit sooner than planned. Consider letting the host know that you may bow out in advance.
talk about your loved oNE-Keeping your loved one's memory alive can be a source of comfort. Don’t be afraid to talk about them and remember that the people around you may be waiting to follow your lead in this. Ignoring the grief and trying to pretend that everything is "fine" is not only unhealthy for you but also can be challenging for family and friends who want to be of support to you and may have memories of their own.
If you are struggling to talk about your stories and memories, you may find it helpful to write your thoughts and feelings in a journal.
take care of yourself physically-When you are grieving, it’s easy to let self-care fall by the wayside. But it is important to take care of your physical health by eating a healthy diet including protein, fruits and vegetables, drinking enough water, getting regular exercise (such as yoga), getting enough sleep and avoiding coffee and alcohol in the evening.
do something to honor your loved one's memory-Participating in the spirit of giving during the holiday season can be a wonderful way to honor your loved one’s memory. This could be something as simple as lighting a candle, placing flowers on their grave, or donating to a charity in their name. Doing something to honor their memory can help you feel closer to them during this holiday season.
try something different-Holiday traditions can bring solace during times of grief, but you may find that trying something new is what you need.
Going out to a restaurant rather than cooking at home, changing your holiday decor, or volunteering can all be a positive change that lasts beyond just this year. (Of course, if you decide to return to your traditions in the future, which is perfectly fine, too!)
Grieving is hardest around certain events, and most often during the holidays. Supporting each other can make it a better season for everyone.
5 tips for hr professionals to help grieving employees
For human resources professionals, helping employees address the death of a beloved family member is “...one of the most crucial experiences you will interact with your employees on,” according to grief specialist David Kessler.
The Society for Human Resources Professionals offers these suggestions:
give time off.
Give financial support through an Employee Assistance Fund or by allowing other employees to donate vacation time.
Provide emotional support by acknowledging the loss. using attention strategically in ways that distract us from the source of hard to regulate emotions.
Encourage the employee to utilize the services of the Employee Assistance Program. (Don't have one, we can help!)
be flexible to the best extent possible.
When you partner with Ulliance, our Life Advisor Consultants are always just a phone call away to teach ways to enhance your work/life balance and increase your happiness. The Ulliance Life Advisor Employee Assistance Program can help employees and employers come closer to a state of total well-being.
Investing in the right EAP or Wellness Program to support your employees will help them and help you. Visit https://ulliance.com/ or call 866-648-8326.
The Ulliance Employee Assistance Program can address the
• Stress about work or job performance
• Crisis in the workplace
• Conflict resolution at work or in one’s personal life
• Marital or relationship problems
• Child or elder care concerns
• Financial worries
• Mental health problems
• Alcohol/substance abuse
• Interpersonal conflicts
• AND MORE!
Society for Human Resources Management, How to Support Employees through Grief and Loss https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/0917/pages/how-to-support-employees-through-grief-and-loss.aspx
[Book] Holiday Hope: Remembering Loved Ones During Special Times, Richard Obershaw
[Book] Surviving the Holidays Without You: Navigating Grief During Special Seasons (Good Grief Series), Gary Roe
Harvard Health Publishing
AARP - Dealing With Grief During the Holiday Season, https://www.aarp.org/home-family/friends-family/info-2020/grief-loss-during-holidays.html
Grief.com - Grief and the Holidays, https://grief.com/grief-the-holidays/