Grief During The Holiday Season: How Do You Cope?

 By Connie DeKrey, Bereavement Specialist

Ordinarily, we think of the holidays as a busy, joyous time. But when one is grieving the death of someone beloved, there is nothing “ordinary” about it.

Holidays are typically filled with memories and reflection, so it is not surprising that the longing we may feel for that absent loved one intensifies against the backdrop of festive bustle. There may be reminders that cause an ache in one’s spirit, such as a card addressed to the deceased, a gift that would have suited him perfectly or her favorite Christmas song playing on the radio.

Because this year’s holidays may be “out of the ordinary” for you due to a loss, it is important to recognize the benefit of understanding grief and implementing some strategies that can assist in coping with that grief.

  • Re-evaluate traditions – While it would seem unthinkable to depart from certain holiday rituals, this may be a year when it makes sense to pick and choose, especially given the fact that grief can consume a great deal of one’s stamina. Perhaps you choose to forgo writing an annual family newsletter, but would not want to miss the local university’s choral concert. Perhaps you may even opt to do something completely different from previous practices. It is perfectly permissible to be selective with your time and energy.
  • Formulate a plan – Having a plan will give you a sense of control during this challenging time. Sharing ideas with those close to you can be helpful, but remember that no plan has to be etched in stone; you need to afford yourself the flexibility to bow out, should unpredictable grief reactions dictate this.
  • Ask for help – As previously mentioned, grief can sap you of energy and enthusiasm. The holidays are an ideal time to enlist the offers of assistance that have come from caring people, in order to manage tasks such as shopping, envelope addressing, baking and the like.
  • Attend to selfcare – Being mindful of a healthy routine of nutrition, rest and exercise is particularly important at this time, as it helps a grieving individual to feel better-equipped for handling the emotions and stresses of the season.
  • Allow for expression – Grief specialist and author Judy Tatelbaum reminds us, “The surest road through grief is to feel it and not deny it.” Nothing changes for the better when one suppresses grief. Acknowledge that the deceased continues to be loved and missed. Find a special way to embrace cherished memories.

When grieving the death of a loved one during the holidays, the sense of loss can at times be overwhelming. It can take courage to simply put one foot in front of the other. But taking a few intentional steps can help an individual begin to regain a sense of order and peace. These steps can set the course of one’s journey toward healing.

Connie DeKrey joined Hospice of the Red River Valley in 1993, and for ten years worked in patient care as a medical social worker.  She has worked with the Journeys department as a bereavement specialist for the past seven years.  She particularly enjoys the opportunity to provide education to individuals and groups about living, dying and grief.

About Hospice of the Red River Valley
Hospice of the Red River Valley is an independent, not-for-profit hospice serving all, or portions of, 29 counties in North Dakota and Minnesota. Hospice care is intensive comfort care that alleviates pain and suffering, enhancing the quality of life for patients with life-limiting illnesses and their loved ones by addressing their medical, emotional, spiritual and grief needs. For more information, call toll free 800-237-4629, email questions@hrrv.org or visit www.hrrv.org.