Coping with the Holidays

by Terri Balash, Director of Pastoral Care

Healing Thoughts

The Holidays are here and for those who are experiencing grieving during the holidays for the first time, this will be a new experience for you.  Anyone who has experienced the death of a special person has “special days” that are harder to live through than others.  Some of these days would be meaningless to  someone else but special to you and your family.  I want to share information that I hope will be helpful and give each of us a new perspective on how to prepare ourselves and our families to experience this festive time of the year under new conditions.

1.  Yes, your loved one died, but your love for him or her continues to live on.  What can you or your family do to continue to make the loved one a part of your holiday?  If the family can discuss this option and decided to do something special in memory of the person who died, it can be very comforting.  Perhaps including a certain food item into the meal may help all to remember the person in a special way, especially if it is something non-traditional.

2.  Can you even think of having fun, smiling or laughing without feeling guilty?  Think back on the fun times you shared together.  A smile and tear may come but a sense of gratitude will come along with it.

3.  Something that is mentioned often is getting back to normal.  What is the new normal?  The old normal will not be able to be  recreated, but the new normal may have its advantage.  I am sure that if people are honest with themselves they can admit some of the things in the old normal are worth letting go of.

4.  It takes a lot of energy to be on the grief journey.  A lot of time is spent wondering how you are going to get through the holidays.  Maybe spending time recreating the old holidays and doing things you always wanted to do will give you energy to try something new and enjoy it more.

5.  Whatever you decide to do, remember there are no “shoulds” in grieving.  Do whatever feels right.  Include family and friends in on the planning and remain open to changing your plans as you go along.

I do not claim to have all the answers, but hopefully some of these suggestions will be helpful in planning for the days ahead.  My Christmas and New Year wish for each of you and your families is holiday blessings filled with peacefulness and gratitude for all that has been and is yet to come.

The Fortune of Love

My sister-in-law Penny was a young, vibrant woman, who lost her battle to pancreatic cancer, and her death had a huge impact on our entire family.  I felt like no holiday could  ever match up to those when we were all together, and for the first few holidays we just coped.  But, by the third Christmas without Penny, I had decided to use my grief training to help the family I loved so much.

On Christmas morning, we gathered at the graveside of Penny.  We celebrated her life, our children released balloons, we sang Christmas carols, we shared funny stories and we cried.  Through acknowledging our own grief, we were able to move forward and celebrate Christmas in a new way. The highly-celebrated holiday isn’t about a  perfect tree, a perfect gift or a perfect day.  It’s all about enjoying the moments and finding good fortune in family and friends who are still there to share it with you.  Penny continues to be our good fortune, and a gentle reminder to keep the holidays simple.

The purpose of these days is to remember and celebrate.  It is a time of year where we remember our past, enjoy our  present and look forward to our future.  It is a time of year when friends and family gather to celebrate traditions.  The phrase “tis the season to be jolly” can quickly magnify our feelings of loss and grief.  When anticipation of a celebration is carefully planned, emotionally you and your families can truly enjoy these days.  I encourage you not to deny your sense of loss.  Chances are friends and family are afraid to mention their name for fear “it will make you cry.”  Tears are okay, and a wonderful sign of unspoken love.

Hopefully these few suggestions can help you to cope.  BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF!

  • Delegate responsibilities.  Don’t take on any extra tasks that are overwhelming.
  • Holiday giving is not a contest.  If shopping is something you do not enjoy, try a gift certificate, home baked items or movie tickets.
  • Make decorating simple—if a large Christmas tree is too difficult, a table top may do.
  • Create a family album of holidays past.  It will give you a chance to speak about your loved memories and will create a new tradition for younger family members.
  • Light a candle near your loved one’s picture.
  • Make a toast to your loved one at dinner.  Again, family and friends will understand.
  • Reprint favorite family recipes and share them as gifts.
  • Participate in religious and spiritual activities that comfort you.
  • Get enough sleep and exercise.  Be aware of the increased accessibility to sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • Visit the cemetery.
  • Initiate calling friends.  Make plans to see a special movie or a pot luck supper.  Then follow up with your plans.
  • Plant a tree in memory of your loved one.
  • Refuse self-pity.  Do what makes you happy.  You are the only one you must please.