GROG: Grief during the holidays

Holidays are hard enough as it is (as talked about in another blog) and they are much harder when we have lost a loved one! What is it about the holidays that makes grief so difficult?

Well, of course it's we don't have our loved ones with us, as most normally do during this time of the year. Whether your loss is recent or many years later - the holidays always make us think about our families, friends and others that are close to us. This is a time of year that everyone makes the effort to get together and often share gifts.

As you and your loved ones approach the holiday season - here are some tips that may help you as you grieve.

1. Acknowledge that the holidays will be different than normal, and they will be tough.

2. Decide which traditions you want to keep, and which you want to change.

3. Create a new tradition in memory of your loved one.

4. Have a moment of silence during your holiday prayer or toast in memory of your loved one.

5. Decide where you want to spend the holidays – you may want to switch up the location, or it may be comforting to keep it the same.

6. Plan ahead and communicate with the people you will spend the holiday with in advance, to make sure everyone is in agreement about traditions and plans.

7. Remember that not everyone will be grieving the same way you are grieving.

8. Remember that the way others will want to spend the holiday may not match how you want to spend the holiday.

9. Put out a ‘memory stocking’, ‘memory box’, or another special place where you and others can write down memories you treasure and pick a time to read them together.

10. Light a candle in your home in memory of the person/people you’ve lost.

11. Include one of your loved one’s favorite dishes in your holiday meal.

12. Be honest and tell people what you DO want to do for the holidays and what you DON’T want to do.

13. Make a donation to a charity that was important to your loved one in their name.

14. Buy a gift you would have given to your loved one and donate it to a local charity.

15. If you are feeling really ambitious, adopt a family in memory of your loved one. This can often be done through a church, salvation army, or goodwill.

16. See a counselor. Maybe you’ve been putting it off. The holidays are especially tough, so this may be the time to talk to someone.

17. Pick a few special items that belonged to your loved one and gift them to friends or family who will appreciate them.

18. Make a memorial ornament, wreath, or other decoration in honor of your loved one.

19. If you have been having a hard time parting with your loved one’s clothing, use the holidays as an opportunity to donate some items to a homeless shelter or other charity.

20. Send a holiday card to friends of your loved one who you may regret having lost touch with.

21. Visit your loved one’s grave site and leave a grave blanket, wreath, poinsettia, or another meaningful holiday item.

22. Play your loved one’s favorite holiday music.

23. If your loved one hated holiday music, that’s okay! Play whatever music they loved.

24. Journal when you are having an especially bad day.

25. Pull out old photo albums and spend some time on the holiday looking at photos.

26. Make a dish that your loved one used to make. Don’t get discouraged if you try to make their dish and you fail. We’ve all been there (or, at least I’ve been there!).

27. Leave an empty seat at the holiday table in memory of your loved one.

28. If leaving an empty seat is too depressing, invite someone who doesn’t have any family to spend the holiday with.

29. Don’t send holiday cards this year if it is too sad or overwhelming.

30. Don’t feel guilty about not sending holiday cards!

31. Create a ‘dear photograph’, with a photo of a holiday past.

32. Skip or minimize gifts. After a death, material things can seem less meaningful and the mall can seem especially stressful. Talk as a family and decide whether you truly want to exchange gifts this year.

33. Put out a photo table with photos of your loved one at holiday celebrations in the past.

34. Go to a grief group. When everyone looks so gosh-darn filled with holiday cheer, sometimes it is helpful to talk with others who are struggling.

35. Skip (or minimize) the decorations if they are too much this year. Don’t worry, you’ll see plenty of decorations outside your house, and don't feel guilty about it!

36. Remember that crying is okay. The holidays are everywhere and who knows what may trigger a cry-fest. We’ve all been there and it is okay to cry (even if you are in the sock aisle at Target).

37. Volunteer in your loved one’s memory.

38. Splurge on a gift for you. Grief can make us feel a little entitled and self-involved, and that is okay sometimes (within reason, of course). Splurge on a holiday gift for yourself this year, and make it a good one!

39. Donate a holiday meal to a family in need through a local church, salvation army, or department of social services. Or you could altar flowers or other holiday decorations at your place of worship in memory of your loved one.

40. Skip it. Really. If you just can’t face the holiday it is okay to take a break this year. Before you get to this extreme, consider if you could just simplify your holiday. If you do skip, still make a plan. Decide if you will still see friends or family, go see a new movie, or make another plan.

Feel free to share these with your friends and family! We hope that you can find some comfort.