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Grief And The Holidays

December 17th, 2020 by judytalks

A Plan For Expressing Joy When You’re Dealing With Grief

How will you celebrate in the face of a deadly virus, a real threat to our lives and our livelihood?

It’s the season of celebration, the time of year when national/religious holidays are honored and enjoyed by millions of people everywhere. 

Traditionally, families gather, friends give parties, and homes are often decorated to hail the season. This time of year fills us with a sense of both peace and excitement. We wouldn’t miss it for the world. 

But what do you do when you’re traumatized by a deep loss? A loved one has died, you’ve lost your job, or your home, and you’re in deep grief?

Loss and mourning bring deep pain and a sense of loneliness that is indescribable. The company of friends and family can bring comfort, as I learned when I lost my husband, but the holidays can also be particularly heart-rending. 

And today, if you are one of those people who has recently experienced a deep loss, here are a few things you can do to make your enjoyment of the holidays uplifting, instead of feeling sad and empty.

Make a plan and start it with memories. Savor each tradition, the fun ones and some more serious, and carefully choose the ones that put a smile on your face.

As you remember past holidays, how have you celebrated? Traditionally, everyone’s in a good mood, music plays continually, certain foods and drink are offered, and other activities are set aside to make room for the fun things. How did you ever get it all done? So many parties, pot lucks, lunches, craft workshops, relative visiting, and shopping.

You might think “I’m going to sit this one out. I can’t manage, it’s too painful and I have nothing to celebrate.”

A plan will relieve the anguish of grief and loss.

How can you express your traditions simply  and quietly, while everyone else is dashing around and making merry?

First, know that you can enjoy your holiday while in mourning. Things are not the same when you have suffered a deep loss. Your plan will reflect those traditions that bring you a sense of peace and wellbeing. They can be expressed, though perhaps altered somewhat. We did this the year my husband died.

When I lost my husband, the Holidays were upon us. My husband entered the hospital a week after Thanksgiving for knee surgery, but instead had angioplasty to remove the blockage in two coronary arteries. That was followed by emergency neurosurgery, a series of strokes, brain damage and death on January 8. 

Christmas that year was very different, and difficult, as we made daily trips to the hospital. Three of my four children were living at home – a daughter in community college and two teenaged boys. My oldest daughter was living and working in another state. She returned home for Christmas vacation. 

We approached the Holidays as a time to celebrate what was most dear to us, while a family member struggled with insurmountable health issues. We decorated the tree, made cookies, and bought presents for one another. We also kept friends and other family members informed of the situation. Our plan was simple, and easily carried out. It allowed us to express traditions while coping with our difficult situation. Nearly every day at the hospital brought a new crisis to deal with.

 The Plan

Today, as you think about the up and coming holiday you cherish, make a plan that serves your situation. Recognize the pain you’re still experiencing, and what aspects of celebration will bring you a sense of calm and peace.

Fun and merriment may be out of the question this year. Though friends and family may send you best holiday wishes, connecting will be difficult. Make a clear plan of what you want – and are up to. A plan will give you parameters for celebrating a holiday you love. 

What has always been your favorite part? Is there a religious aspect to your regular celebrations and, if so, how will you express that this year? Are you up to any festivities at all? 

Importantly, what soothes you? Is it music? The communication with friends? Choosing gifts for family and close friends? For how many days will you be celebrating before the actual day that you’re remembering?

Time honored traditions help keep us balanced. Setting aside time for habits and beliefs brings a sense of security and wellbeing. As the company of friends and family bring comfort and solace, so do we feel a part of a larger group of persons who share those traditions. 

Today, it is possible to recreate much of those traditions on the internet. Activities of every kind may be found with some research, from religious, to social, to crafting ornaments for the tree. Start early to set up calls that involve several people. In my family, if we wait ’til the last minute, there’s always someone who “can’t make it that day, or that time”. Firm it up.

Lastly, what brings you real joy? Whether it’s the spiritual aspect, music of the season, foods you “always have”, or secret Santa gifts, choose a few and make a plan.

Your plan should be written down, fixed in your mind and firm. It doesn’t have to be lengthy and detailed, just a reminder of what matters to you this year. This is part of what I call “putting the ball in your court”. The emotional upheaval that accompanies mourning will hit when you least expect it.

You may feel overwhelmed by your grief, swallowed in isolation and unable to participate in some favored traditions. You, and only you can decide what you do, and for how long. Your plan should be based on the following considerations:

Interacting with people, digitally or in the flesh. Just smile and say “goodbye” when you’ve had enough.

Outside activities and shopping trips. Your energy levels will fluctuate. Sit down or head for the car.

Music and movies. Switch the channel, turn it off or take a walk.

                     Put The Ball In Your Court

It’s your choice to make major changes to your holiday events.

  •  You may buy a gift or a tree ornament for a deceased loved one. 
  • Isolation may prompt you to set up extra digital visits with family members and friends.
  •  Donating to a charity in someone’s name may start a new tradition for you. 
  •  Sharing homemade items are perfect ways of managing the ups and downs of mourning. These may include baked goods, crafted pinwheels or stars for the tree (crayons and glitter), or needlework items. Some people write poems for the occasion. 

Concentrating on creativity eases the emotional and mental pain you are experiencing.

Comfort comes from an inner sense of understanding, supported by the warmth of friends, family, and the remembrance of those things we hold dear.

At this joyous time of year, I wish you the happiest of Holidays. I am familiar with celebrating while in mourning, and I assure you, with some thought and planning, it can be a time of peace and joy. This year is like no other, but a cherished celebration is a permanent fixture in our hearts and minds.

If you are planning specific ways to celebrate this year, please consider sharing them. Ideas and goodwill inspire more joy and affirm that some bonds are never broken.

I wish you well,


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