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What if Christmas isn't so merry? Surviving the holidays after a loss accent

December 19, 2023 | By

Many of us who are grieving a loss wish we could just push a remote-control button to fast-forward through the holidays. This is a natural response to the nonstop music, decorations, and messages of cheer clashing with the energy-draining sadness of grief.

Here are some strategies to help you make it to January with your emotional well-being intact.

1. Practice positive self-talk.

"I’m doing the best I can, with the energy I have, one day at a time. My feelings -- even anger -- are a natural, normal response to losing my loved one. I have the right to take all the time I need to grieve and not embrace the holidays. Asking for help allows my friends and family to feel useful."

2. Plan ahead.

Decide who you want to spend the holidays with. Pick those who lift you up and listen rather than those who create drama or give advice. Decide as a family which holiday traditions would be important to keep, and let the rest go. Divide the responsibilities fairly and don’t forget to include children in your decisions! Create new traditions, if doing so is easier than trying to keep the old. Foregoing turkey and all the trimmings in favor of pizza or potluck is perfectly OK!

3. Agree to accept the differences in how we all grieve; resist judgment.

Everyone grieves differently. Some talk and process quickly, while others need more space and time. Young children and teens often “show” their feelings rather than discuss them; let them choose the ways of expressing grief that work for them. (Common examples include listening to music, playing sports, journaling, and looking at photos.) Stay available, but don’t push. All children grieve, but their grief doesn't always show in ways that we recognize.

4. Honor your loved one who died.

Hang a stocking with his or her favorite candy to share. Create a homemade ornament that includes the person's name. Light a candle. Reminisce over photos. Play the person's favorite music. Give special items that belonged to them to people they were close to and share a story related to each object. Choose a charity and donate your time or dollars in honor of the person who died.

5. Be honest and loving toward yourself and others -- say what you need to say, without excuses!

You may need to skip a holiday event last-minute and just rest. Family, especially children and teens, may need private space to take short breaks. Laughter through tears is a fine thing at Christmas! Joy and grief can coexist if we let go of guilt.

 6. Allow yourself to feel angry, even at God.

Even if you have a strong faith in God, losing someone you love can shake that faith to its core, and you may feel unable to practice your faith. That's OK. Read and journal about your feelings; if you wish, talk o a priest, minister, or other spiritual adviser. If avoiding religious services and hymns during the holiday makes you feel better, allow yourself that break, and don't beat yourself up over your feelings.

7. Don't be afraid to seek professional help, especially if you are feeling despondent or are having suicidal thoughts.

In Iowa, call 2-1-1 or 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) for confidential assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

To obtain information about WesleyLife Hospice or WesleyLife’s bereavement services, contact Cindy Meek, the author of this article, at (515) 271-6777 or (515) 707-8412.

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