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Be Kind to Yourself During the Holidays, Especially If You’re Grieving

When Elvis Presley sings about missing someone in “Blue Christmas,” he may be singing about spending the holidays apart from his girlfriend. Nevertheless, many of us can relate to his words:

christmas tree - sad

“I'll have a blue Christmas without you
I'll be so blue just thinking about you
Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree
Won't be the same dear, if you're not here with me.”

These words take on a different meaning for those of us who miss someone in our lives, or who are dealing with illness and can’t celebrate the holidays in our usual way. Indeed, it seems that most people gather with friends and loved ones for Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s and more. However, if we are grieving or living with a loss, we may not feel like celebrating at all.

Understanding What Grief Is

We have discussed elsewhere that grief is more than just mourning the loss of a friend or family member who has died. Any change in routine can bring a feeling of sadness or of being “not quite right.” If we lose our sense of security or we worry about future losses, we are still grieving, even though we don’t always identify these feelings as grief.
Understanding grief as such can be a powerful way to understand our own emotions as we endure change and create “a new normal.” For these reasons, many people experience a wave of grief around the holidays. In fact, some wish they could just fast forward through the holidays -- skip the shopping, family gatherings, the baking, and the parties. These activities can be difficult when we are living with a loss.
Whether we are spending the first year with an empty chair at the kitchen table or becoming emotional as we think of the holidays next year, it is important to be kind with ourselves as we process. Grief may not be sadness. It may be frustration, anger, or lack of energy. It may also be the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves to do everything perfectly.

Setting Expectations for Yourself and Others

Putting boundaries around our expectations of ourselves and others is perfectly reasonable. This year we may not go to every party or event. Things will probably look different, and that’s OK. We need to be sure and communicate our needs and expectations to those around us.

We may want to honor the memory of loved ones by donating gifts to charity in their names or making their favorite meals.

Or, if we are feeling overwhelmed by holiday cheer, it might be useful to find a local grief group for support. It can feel reassuring to be around those for whom this time of year might also be difficult.

Finding Ways to Face Holiday Season

Because our journeys are unique, and even ebb and flow within us over time, there are lots of tips and tricks that may be helpful. One group of experts has come up with a list of 64 Tips for Coping with Grief at the Holidays. They include things such as:

  • Acknowledge that the holidays will be different, and they will be tough.
  • 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.
  • 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 join you.
  • Seek gratitude.
  • Enjoy yourself! The holidays will be tough, but there will also be love and joy.

As always, take what’s helpful for you and leave what’s not.

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