Coping with the holidays following loss
Courtesy The Denver Hospice Grief Center, East Denver LIVING WELL Magazine
The holidays traditionally are a time of celebration, joy, and family reunion but can be the most difficult time of the year for anyone grieving the loss of a loved one.
“People who are grieving feel completely out of synch with the rest of the world during this time,” says Jennifer Yarbro, manager of The Denver Hospice Grief Center. “They’re missing the person whom they loved most when everyone else is surrounded by family and friends.”
Yarbro recommends that people who have lost a loved one make a plan for special days but also leave open the option to change their minds if plans seem overwhelming. Sometimes having a couple of different options is a good idea.
Among other things, decide whether you can handle the responsibility of the family dinner or holiday party or would like someone else to take over this year. Decide whether you will celebrate as usual or try something different.
“Really being honest with yourself about what feels right and then not being afraid to make changes will help,” says Yarbro. “Communicate your wishes and your needs to family members and friends so people know what it is you are wanting and will know how to help.”
Yarbro recalls one couple who loved to decorate for the holidays. After her husband died, his widow wanted to mark the holiday in a new way. She bought new ornaments for her tree to symbolize each year they were married.
“That was a powerful combination of simplifying her holiday tradition while also finding a way to remember her husband in the celebration,” says Yarbro.
It’s important to take time to remember the person who died and how he or she touched your life. Friends and family members should not avoid talking about the person who died.
“Most people need to hear their loved one’s name spoken aloud. They want to know that their loved one is remembered and missed by others,” says Yarbro. Commemorating a loved one can be as simple as serving their favorite food, lighting a candle in their honor or having guests write memories on sheets of paper, place them in a bowl and then read them aloud.”
At some point during the holiday season, it’s important, too, to set aside a special time alone to remember your loved one and the relationship you shared.
“This can be done in a lot of different ways––perhaps putting in a movie you enjoyed watching together or writing a letter to your loved one,” says Yarbro.
While it’s important to schedule some alone time, it also can be helpful to connect with people who are safe and supportive and check in with them frequently.
“Find a friend who really knows how to listen and talk to that person,” explains Yarbro.
“Your family and friends want to help, so let them know how.”
If there are children in the family, it’s important to have some semblance of a holiday to let them know that things are still OK. Friends can offer to take the children on such outings as ice skating, sledding or to see The Nutcracker.
Here are some other strategies that may help:
- Take care of yourself physically: Make sure you are eating healthy foods. If you find yourself eating too little or too much, try smaller more frequent meals. Exercise––even if it’s as simple as taking a walk. Treat yourself to some special pampering such as a massage, manicure or pedicure.
- Don’t be afraid to make changes: Consider simplifying the holidays. Protect yourself from over-stimulation. It’s OK to do less or just turn it all off.
- Get involved in meaningful activities: Do something for others such as being part of making a meal for the homeless. Invite those who don’t have somewhere to go to your holiday gathering.
- It’s OK to have fun: Enjoyment, laughter, and pleasure do not mean you are abandoning your loved one. You are in no danger of forgetting him or her. Give yourself and your family permission to celebrate and take pleasure in the day. Don’t feel guilty about any enjoyment you may experience.
The Denver Hospice Grief Center is open to anyone in the community whether their loss is a hospice death or not. The Grief Center at 501 S. Cherry St., Suite 700 in Denver, offers individual counseling and grief support groups. The Footprints Children’s Grief Center provides grief support to children and teens. Information: 303-321-2828.