Holidays are often difficult for anyone who has experienced the death of someone loved. Rather than being times of family togetherness, sharing and thanksgiving, holidays can bring feelings of sadness, loss and emptiness. Since love does not end with death, holidays may result in a renewed sense of personal grief, a feeling of loss unlike that experienced in the routine of daily living. Society encourages you to join in the holiday spirit, but all around you the sounds, sights and smells trigger memories of the one you love who has died. No simple guidelines exist that will take away the hurt you are feeling.

However, the Bereavement Team at High Peaks Hospice, hope that the following suggestions will help you better cope with your grief during this joyful, yet painful, time of the year. As you read through these materials, remember that by being tolerant and compassionate with yourself, you can only continue to heal.

During the holiday season, don’t be afraid to express your feelings of grief. Ignoring your grief won’t make the pain go away, and talking about it openly often makes you feel better. Find caring friends and relatives who will listen without judging you. This can help you to feel understood. Feelings of loss will probably leave you fatigued. Your low energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you, and lower your own expectations about being at your peak during the holiday season.

You may already feel stressed, so don’t overextend yourself. Avoid isolating yourself, but be sure to recognize the need to have special time for yourself.  Realize also that merely “keeping busy” won’t distract you from your grief, but may actually increase stress and postpone the need to talk out thoughts and feelings related to your grief. Include your loved one’s name in your holiday conversations if, you are able. This can only support allowing others to recognize your need to remember that special person who was an important part of your life. Well-meaning friends and family often try to prescribe what is good for you during the holidays.

Instead of going along with their plans, focus on what you want to do. Discuss your wishes with a caring, trusted friend. Talking about these wishes will help you clarify what it is you want to do during the holidays. Decide which family traditions you want to continue and which new ones you would like to begin. This will help you anticipate activities, rather than just reacting to whatever happens. Getting caught off guard can create feelings of panic, fear and anxiety during the time of the year when your feelings of grief are already heightened. Always allow room to change any plans if you feel it is appropriate.

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. Instead of keeping memories to yourself, share them with your family and friends. Keep in mind that memories are tinged with both happiness and sadness. If your memories bring laughter, smile.  If your memories bring sadness, then it’s all right to cry. Memories that were made in love, no one can ever take them away from you and they truly are a lasting and true gift inside a season of material giving.

Spend time thinking about the meaning and purpose of your life. The death of someone you loved may create opportunities for taking inventory of your life; past, present and future. The combination of a holiday and a loss naturally results in looking inward and assessing your individual situation. Make the best use of this time to define the positive things in life that surround you. And finally, during the holidays, you may find a renewed sense of faith or discover a new set of beliefs. Associate with people who understand and respect your need to talk about these beliefs. If your faith is important, you may want to attend a holiday service or special religious ceremony.

As you approach the holidays, remember: grief is both a necessity and a privilege. It comes as a result of giving and receiving love. Don’t let anyone take your grief away. Love yourself. Be patient with yourself and please allow yourself to be surrounded by loving, caring people.  If you are looking for the perfect gift this season, remember, LOVE is free, and everyone needs it. Receive it, give it away, and remember it did not, and does not die; a body did, and Love goes on now in a new way… who will you give it away too?

Blessings as you bravely step into this healing journey.