Coping with the December Days of Celebration and Joy (when coping seems impossible)
Updated: Jan 6
By Jill S. Cohen, NYC family grief counselor
Do you fall to pieces at the sound of a Christmas song playing in the store and wonder how one song can ruin your shopping trip? Do you stare at the adult buying a gift for her child as you grieve the loss of yours? Do you want to kick every Christmas tree that you see? Do you want to rip the December page right out of the calendar and hide under the covers until it’s over?
You’re not alone. These feelings are SO familiar to so many. Even the Hallmark Channel programmers seem to have forgotten that in the midst of the most festive time of year, there are many out there in the real world who are NOT celebrating and are NOT joy-filled. In fact, many are really rather sad during this season.
One of the great website resources for those experiencing grief is called whatsyourgrief.com. Check it out for a very comprehensive amount of information on anything and everything you want and need to know about grief, but didn’t know where to go to find it.
What’s your grief website took on the task of asking people what they wish they had been told about coping with at the holidays. The response was a tremendous number of people giving their thoughts and suggestions.
If the list below leaves you wanting more, go to whatsyourgrief.com/store and you can purchase a Practical Guide for Grieving During the Holidays for $2.
From whatsyourgrief.com --- 64 tips for dealing with the holidays:
Acknowledge that the holidays will be different and they will be tough.
Decide which traditions you want to keep.
Decide which traditions you want to change.
Create a new tradition in memory of your loved one.
Decide where you want to spend the holidays – you may want to switch up the location, or it may be of comfort to keep it the same. Either way, make a conscious decision about location.
Remember that not everyone will be grieving the same way you are grieving.
Remember that the way others will want to spend the holiday may not match how you want to spend the holiday.
Light a candle in your home in memory of the person you’ve lost.
Be honest. Tell people what you DO want to do for the holidays and what you DON’T want to do.
Make a donation to a charity that was important to your loved one in their name.
Buy a gift you would have given to your loved one and donate it to a local charity.
If you are feeling really ambitious, adopt a family in memory of your loved one. This can often be done through a church, salvation army, or goodwill.
Pick a few special items that belonged to your loved one and gift them to friends or family who will appreciate them.
Make a memorial ornament, wreath, or other decoration in honor of your loved one.
Send a holiday card to friends of your loved one who you may regret having lost touch with.
Visit your loved one’s gravesite and leave a grave blanket, wreath, poinsettia, or another meaningful holiday item.
Play your loved one’s favorite holiday music.
If your loved one hated holiday music, that’s okay! Play whatever music they loved.
Skip holiday events if you are in holiday overload.
Don’t feel guilty about skipping events if you’re experiencing holiday overload!
Pull out old photo albums and spend some time on the holiday looking at photos.
Make a dish that your loved one used to make. Don’t get discouraged if you try to make their dish and you fail. We’ve all been there (or, at least I’ve been there!).
Leave an empty seat at the holiday table in memory of your loved one.
If leaving an empty seat is too depressing, invite someone who doesn’t have any family to spend the holiday with.
Don’t send holiday cards this year if it is too sad or overwhelming.
Don’t feel guilty about not sending holiday cards!
Skip or minimize gifts. After a death, material things can seem less meaningful and the mall can seem especially stressful. Talk as a family and decide whether you truly want to exchange gifts this year.
Put out a photo table with photos of your loved one at holiday celebrations in the past.
Go to a grief group. When everyone looks so gosh-darn filled with holiday cheer, sometimes it is helpful to talk with others who are struggling.
Skip (or minimize) the decorations if they are too much this year. Don’t worry, you’ll see plenty of decorations outside your house.
Don’t feel guilty if you skip or minimize the decorations!
Remember that crying is okay. The holidays are everywhere and who knows what may trigger a cry-fest. We’ve all been there and it is okay to cry (even if you are in the sock aisle at Target).
Volunteer in your loved one’s memory.
Let your perfectionism go. If you always have the perfect tree, perfectly wrapped gifts, and perfect table, accept that this year may not be perfect and that is a-okay. I know this is easier said than done for you type-As, but give it a try.
Ignore people who want to tell you what you “should” do for the holiday. Listen to yourself, trust yourself, communicate with your family, and do what works for you.
Seek gratitude. I am the queen of holiday funks, so I know this is tough. But try to find one daily gratitude throughout the holiday season. Write it down, photograph it, share it on facebook. Whatever. Just look for the little things. Here are some tips if you’re struggling with it.
Watch the food. Food can make us feel better in the short term (damn you, dopamine!) until we feel like crap later that we ate that whole tin of holiday cookies. Don’t deprive yourself, but be careful that you don’t let food become your holiday comfort.
If you are stressed about making the holiday dinner, ask someone else to cook or buy dinner this year.
If you are stressed about the crowds at the mall, cut back on gifts or do your shopping online.
Splurge on a gift for you. Grief can make us feel a little entitled and self-involved, and that is okay sometimes (within reason, of course). Splurge on a holiday gift for yourself this year, and make it a good one!
Say yes to help. There will be people who want to help and may offer their support. Take them up on their offers.
Ask for help. If people aren’t offering, ask. This can be super-hard if it isn’t your style, but it is important. Asking others to help with cooking, shopping, or decorating can be a big relief.
Have a moment of silence during your holiday prayer or toast in memory of your loved one.
Donate a holiday meal to a family in need through a local church, salvation army, or department of social services.
Make some quiet time for yourself. The holidays can be hectic, make quiet time for yourself to journal, meditate, listen to music, etc.
Practice self-care. I know, how cliché. But it is true – whatever it is that helps you recharge, do it. You can find some self-care tips here.
Donate altar flowers or other holiday decorations at your place of worship in memory of your loved one.
Prioritize and don’t overcommit. When the holidays are filled with so many parties, dinners, and events, save your energy for those that are most important. Look at everything you have to do and rank them in order of importance. Plan for the most important and skip the rest.
Make a list and check it twice. Grief makes it harder for us to concentrate and remember things. When you have a lot going on at the holidays, make a list even if you aren’t usually a list-maker, and write things on the calendar.
Skip it. Really. If you just can’t face the holiday it is okay to take a break this year. Before you get to this extreme, consider if you could just simplify your holiday. If you do skip, still make a plan. Decide if you will still see friends or family, go see a new movie, or make another plan.
Enjoy yourself! The holidays will be tough, but there will also be love and joy.
Remember, it is okay to be happy – this doesn’t diminish how much you love and miss the person who isn’t there this holiday. Don’t feel guilty for the joy you do find this holiday season.
GOOD LUCK THIS MONTH …
And remember, very often it can be very beneficial to seek out some grief counseling to help support you through the experience of your grief. Could you benefit from grief counseling? Want to find out more information? I offer a FREE tool to help you along in the grief process, check it out HERE!!
Visit jillgriefcounselor.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org