For many, the holidays are a time of togetherness and excitement, but for those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, the holidays bring about feelings of grief and sadness.
Grief is the highly personal response to life losses. When we grieve, we feel powerlessness, fear, anger and guilt. Some also may experience shock, denial, sadness, loneliness, depression and apathy. It can be difficult to find the joy in the holidays when coping with loss. Learning how to cope with feelings of grief and finding positive ways to remember loved ones can help make the holidays more enjoyable.
Here are some tips to help you enjoy the holidays while remembering your loved ones:
Talk about your relationship with the deceased. Review, reflect, and remember well the life, illness, death and funeral of your loved one. Break out of the imposed isolation and break the silence. Otherwise, you carry a terrible, burdensome secret.
Acknowledge and express your feelings or else you become numb. Unexpressed feelings don't go away; they fester within your body and cause disease.
Begin to think for yourself. A grief support group can help you to see what is "normal," to re-orient your thinking and doing and to give you a point of reference while you are feeling disoriented and lost.
You do have choices. You can choose not to risk, not to change, but remember that in doing so you are choosing not to grow, not to mature. Think of your new growth as a tribute to your loved one.
Another way to cope with the loss of a loved one is to create your own memorial. Rituals are a part of healing through grief. Developing a new ritual takes planning, care and love. The thought you put into it will reap you many benefits in the days ahead. Here are a few suggestions of memorials that are adaptable to any of the holidays.
Purchase or make a memorial candle to light whenever you want to feel a warming presence.
Place a single flower on the table in honor of the "presence" of your loved one.
Spend some time together as a family with the family album. Make it a special celebration when the past is discussed, reviewed and re-lived.
Reserve some time to tell a favorite story about your loved one.
Make a donation to charity in the name of your loved one.
Make a shadow box filled with special items that belonged to your family member. This could be a family project, with each family member choosing something special to include.
Create a special mantle or table arrangement using items that had a sentimental meaning to you and your loved one.
Plan a brief memorial tribute and/or a prayer.
Hang a stocking for your loved one. Have each person write a note saying something they'd like to tell the absent person and place it in the stocking.
Reprinted with permission from St. Francis Hospitals and Health Centers. Originally presented at the St. Francis Workshop, “Creative Grieving through the Holidays.”