Holiday Pain: Managing Grief During this Time

Dec 1 • 2017
Holiday Pain: Managing Grief During this Time

When you’ve lost a loved one, every day can feel like a struggle to get through. During the holiday season, grief can show up in different ways and make celebrating with friends and family seem impossible. Being proactive is one of the best things you can do to prepare yourself for emotions that may arise during the holidays.

Create a Plan

Angela Hamblen-Kelly, director of the Kemmons Wilson Family Center for Good Grief, suggests starting with a plan.

“We really like to encourage people to have a plan that you can be flexible with,” said Hamblen-Kelly. “We feel like people do cope better during the holidays when they have some sort of framework. Don’t wait until the last minute because you may not have the energy to make a plan otherwise.”

Building this plan includes having an open discussion with other loved ones that might be involved. Look at past holiday traditions that you want to continue to include and identify others that might be too difficult this year.

“We try to work with people to develop a plan that involves an element of support and an element of memorialization—doing something that day to acknowledge the person who has passed away,” said Hamblen-Kelly. “It may be something as simple as lighting a candle in memory of that person and allowing it to burn all day. So even though they aren’t physically there, there is a spiritual connection.”

Other ideas she has seen people use include decorating a tree with ornaments that remind them of the person they lost, and sharing stories. No matter how small or large the gesture may be, it’s the thought that is important.

Allow Yourself to Feel

One of the biggest mistakes people make is not giving themselves the freedom to really feel and accept the sadness they’re feeling during the holiday season.

“It’s important to really be mindful of the toll that grief takes on your body, and that the holidays take normally,” said Hamblen-Kelly. “We try to stress to people that grief is hard on a normal day. When you bring the holidays on top of it, and they are rooted in memories and rituals, it can be even harder.”

When planning your schedule, make sure you’re giving yourself time to rest. Stay hydrated throughout the day, and carve out time for physical activity.

“We also try to encourage people to not have guilt trips. Give yourself the freedom to not be hard on yourself,” added Hamblen-Kelly.

Have a Backup Plan

Sometimes, even your best plans can get off track. Because of this, it’s important to also have a backup or escape plan. If you’re planning to go to a party or have dinner with a group, identify the person you know you can talk to if things become too much and you need to leave. This support person is extremely important. Make sure it is someone you trust to respect your wishes and who will leave with you if necessary.

“Let yourself feel things,” said Hamblen-Kelly. “Our culture is very grief and mourning avoidant, but we try to focus on the fact that grief is an expression of love. You have that intense moment because you loved so much. When you feel it, give yourself permission to do what you need to do. Talk to someone, sit down and be quiet by yourself. Journal; go for a walk. Just have an outlet.”

Help Children Find Coping Mechanisms

Adults aren’t the only ones grieving during the holidays. Many children are also experiencing these emotions, and it’s important to help them find the right way to express them. Children grieve much differently than adults, so having an open conversation with them is a great place to start.

“Children often need us to acknowledge the person who has died during the holidays because they might be afraid to mention their name or worry they will upset other people,” said Hamblen-Kelly. “It’s healthy and normal to do something that children can participate in because it helps them understand that grief is real and that just because a loved one has died, they aren’t gone forever.”

If you’re struggling with grief this holiday season, one of the three Kemmons Wilson Family Center for Good Grief locations can help. Call them and let them know you’re struggling, and their specialists can assist you in developing a plan this holiday season.