The holidays are often thought of as joyful time of the year, filled with the sights and sounds of seasonal cheer. Yet for people struggling with the death of a family member or other loved one, the holidays can be a difficult time.
The season may be full of reminders of the loss in our lives. And it is not just recent losses. During the holidays, feelings of grief can seem fresh, even if a loved one died years ago.
The pain of grief can seem even greater because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. For almost two years, families have not been able to gather freely with others, many traditional holiday events were canceled, and there continues to be concerns about traveling and safety of COVID-19 exposure.
At a time of year when many people feel compelled to follow holiday traditions, it can be important to give yourself permission to do something different, particularly if you are grieving. Some people find it comforting to be with family and friends, emphasizing the familiar. Others may wish to avoid old traditions that might emphasize the loss and to try something new.
Hospice professionals help families cope with loss throughout the year. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) offers the following additional suggestions for coping with grief during the holidays:
- Plan for the approaching holidays. Recognize that the holidays might be a difficult time for you. The stress may affect you emotionally, mentally, and physically. This is a normal reaction. Be prepared and gentle with yourself.
- Recognize that the holidays will not be the same. Expecting everything to seem the same might lead to disappointment. Doing things differently acknowledges the change in your life but still offers continuity with the past.
- Be careful not to isolate yourself. It is important to take quiet, reflective time for yourself but also allow yourself the support offered from friends and family. COVID-19 might prevent you from being together in person, but telephone, Zoom, or Skype calls can be a way to stay in touch.
- The holidays may affect other family members. Talk over your plans and share your feelings. Respect others’ choices and needs.
- Avoid additional stress. Decide what you really want to do over the holiday season and give yourself permission to avoid things you don’t want to do.
- Be willing to listen to a friend who is grieving. Active listening from friends and family is an important step to helping some cope with grief and heal. And never tell someone that they should get “over it;” instead, give the person hope that, eventually, he or she will enjoy the holidays again.
- Follow up after the holidays to check in. Given the activity of the season, some people may make it through the holidays without any concerns, but they might find the post-holiday period to be more difficult. Checking in after the holidays with friends who are grieving to see how they are doing is helpful.
NHPCO’s CaringInfo.org website offers more information about coping with grief and loss. Additionally, your local hospice can be a source of information to help you or a loved one cope with grief and loss or to find resources in your community. NHPCO’s Find a Provider tool can help you find a hospice in your area.