December is a painful time for many people who are missing a loved one. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s or other festivities, the holidays can stress you emotionally, mentally and physically.
Alex Zima, grief counselor for HopeHealth, says your heart may be heavy whether this is the first season without your loved one or you have been grieving longer.
“For some individuals the second year after a death can be equally or more intense. People are feeling a bit better, more themselves, then feelings cycle back very powerfully, particularly around the holidays.” Alex explains.
Caring for yourself at this time is critical, so here is some advice:
1. Plan ahead
Acknowledge the fact you have been through a hardship and have challenging days ahead. Prepare yourself and try to lighten your load. Be mindful of what you truly need.
“Mindfulness puts us in tune with what’s really beneficial and supportive for us in our grief process,” Alex says. “By being mindful of our own needs, we can better plan for the holidays, plan alternatives and communicate with family members,” he says.
2. Have a conversation
After you have considered what you want, talk about it with your family and close friends. It could be time alone, help with holiday preparations, or the freedom to change a family tradition.
“Make sure people know that if you leave a gathering after two or three hours, that is an act of self-care, not a sign that there’s something wrong with you,” Alex says. “It’s okay to celebrate in a different way.”
Whether you find comfort in old holiday traditions or decide to start new ones, remember to take it one day at a time.
3. Consider helping others
During the holidays, you might find that volunteering, adopting a needy family or donating a gift to charity (if you have the means) can help get your mind off your heartache.
Volunteering is a wonderful way to support a cause near and dear to your heart. If you don’t have a particular organization in mind, contact your local council on aging, hospital or soup kitchen, or check out VolunteerMatch.org. (HopeHealth is always grateful for volunteers, too!)
Yet another way to connect with others is to visit or call friends and family between the holidays, especially if they, too, are feeling down or could use a helping hand. Building these touch points is an important way to build your emotional resilience.
Attending a grief support group is one way to take comfort from others with similar feelings. If you’re not ready to talk, just listen. Find a group in Rhode Island or Massachusetts.
4. Take comfort in your memories
There are many ways to remember your loved one during the holidays:
- Light a candle in his or her memory
- Display photos
- Hang an ornament or stocking with her or his name on it
- Raise your glasses in a toast
- Ask family and friends to share a positive memory or impression
- Attend a remembrance ceremony
Bringing your loved one into the festivities does something important, Alex says: “It helps us turn toward our grief. Then people don’t feel as disconnected from their loved ones, there’s a sense of continued connection.”
5. Take one day at a time
Whether you find comfort in old holiday traditions or decide to start new ones, take this period one day at a time. Try not to overload yourself to get through the days faster or isolate yourself until they are over.
Everyone grieves in his or her own way, and no single way is right. What’s more, “the emotions of grief can happen in any order—often all at once, or we can cycle through many emotions in a day or in an hour,” Alex explains.
Remember, your family and loved ones are grieving, too, and will understand if you need to do things a bit differently this year.
HopeHealth is a non-profit provider of hospice, palliative care, home care, and dementia and Alzheimer’s support services, serving Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Our grief support services include counseling, support groups, remembrance events, and more.