For those who have lost a loved one, managing grief during the holidays is a common struggle. Connection to people, places, and traditions can be stark reminders of loved ones lost. Further, society and the media’s tendency to promote idealized versions of holiday spirit and togetherness, whether in a commercial, song, or social media post, often only amplifies the pain of these difficult memories. Fortunately, whether it is you or someone close who has lost a loved one, there are ways to be intentional about grief when approaching the holiday season.
Set Realistic Expectations
Know that no matter how much time has passed since your loss, grief will still show up, sometimes unexpectedly too. Rather than suppressing, avoiding, or pushing it away, invite it to come sit alongside you during the holiday season. As humans, we are meant to experience a wide range of emotions. Processing and feeling the difficult ones remind us that we are alive.
Connect with Those You Care About
When grief shows up, it is easy to withdraw from close relationships and community. As a result, feelings of loneliness and isolation may heighten. Making the difficult but intentional choice to connect with loved ones is a courageous way to engage in self-care throughout the holidays. Remind yourself that people do not need to have all of the information or understand everything in order to support you. Remind yourself that you do not have to choose between them and your deceased. It is not an either-or decision. Rather, it is possible to honor and value all relationships, with those who are living and with those who have passed on.
Celebrate and Honor Those You Have Lost
Every loss is uniquely personal; thus it is important to decide how to honor your loved one in a way that is meaningful to you. Doka (2002, as cited in Grief Counseling Resource Guide, A Field Manual, 2004) suggests four different types of rituals that can assist with the grieving process:
- Rituals of Continuity – Emphasizes continued connection with those you have lost. Perhaps cooking their favorite meal, playing their favorite board game, or visiting a place that was meaningful to them.
- Rituals of Transition – Signifies change in grief process. This might be cleaning out their room or selling their belongings. It is important that transition rituals only occur when those grieving are ready.
- Rituals of Affirmation – Highlights gratitude for the love, help, and support provided by the deceased. This could include writing them a letter or lighting a candle and sharing the positive impact they had on your life.
- Rituals of Intensification – Underscores common identity and connection between those grieving. Examples of this might be gathering as a group to share memories or visiting the burial site together.
Seek Out Grief Therapy
Engaging in therapy for grief is a tangible and courageous way to combat grief during the holiday season. Grief therapists can support and guide you while providing a safe and empathetic space for processing. Modern Era Counseling in Charlotte, NC offers grief counseling services. If you live in the Charlotte area, we encourage you to book an appointment with one of our individual therapists.
You may also consider attending a local grief group. While no one will have the exact experience of loss as you, being in a common space with individuals who are also grieving can provide a unique avenue of both connection and support. Further, public expression of grief can provide validation for individual pain. Below is a list of grief groups in the local Charlotte area.
Virtual Young Adult Grief Group
Visit https://mindspacecounseling.com/group-therapy/ to learn more.
Parent Loss Grief Support Group and Education
Pregnancy Loss Support Circle
Visit https://www.charlottewomenscounseling.com/miscarraige-support-circle to learn more.
How to Support Loved Ones Who Are Grieving During the Holidays
Acknowledge the Grief
This is not something that necessarily requires a conversation with your loved one. Instead, simply try to remind yourself that they are likely managing grief, along with other complicated emotions, and that this may create a more overwhelming experience for them during the holidays. This awareness will allow you to set realistic expectations as well as minimize the likelihood of misunderstandings. Rather than a snappy reaction to your loved one’s lack of enthusiasm about posing for family pictures, you may be able to channel a more empathetic response that acknowledges what may be going on beneath the surface.
Offer Your Time and Space
The grieving process is incredibly complex, and the needs of those grieving are highly individualized. Some people may want to share stories of loved ones lost and others may not be ready. Some people may need more time alone, and others may find comfort in routine and connection. Grief has its own timeline and may show up unexpectedly. Be flexible and adaptable if you notice your loved one is struggling.
Give the Gift of Permission
Some people try to push through or avoid their grief during the holidays to show up for others in the way they think they should. It could be that offering your loved one permission to grieve is exactly what they need to hear to consider it a real possibility. However, remember that the routine and connection may be a source of comfort or means of survival, so it is important to be mindful of this when offering support.
Navigating loss is an incredibly difficult and complex journey, and the holidays often make it feel impossible. While the recommendations above are foundational tools in approaching grief and loss, they can be very critical in one’s ability to process difficult emotions and find a way forward. Thus, with the holidays approaching, identify your needs during this season, do what you can to support yourself, and be kind to your grief.