Navigating Grief During the Holiday Season
These days, you can find holiday decorations in major department stores as early as September. Some people dive into the holiday season head first while others dread it. There are so many reasons why this season can be difficult for individuals, and grief is a main one.
Mary Easton, LCSW has immense experience providing both grief and bereavement counseling. Prior to working here at Carolina Psychological Associates, she worked at Hospice for close to five years. During her time there she presented their “Coping with the Holidays” program. Here at Carolina Psychological Associates she works with adolescents, adults, couples, and families experiencing grief, loss, anxiety, and depression. Below she provides insight for navigating grief during the holidays.
Why can the holidays be difficult for someone experiencing loss?
The loss of a loved one brings on a range of emotions but the holidays can pose even more emotional struggles. The holidays are full of rituals that typically involve our loved ones. We have more gatherings with family and friends, which reminds us of those who are not with us. In addition, there can be emotional landmines everywhere. Individuals may not be prepared emotionally for the images on television or social media. Both music in stores and certain seasonal smells can prompt an emotional response from someone who has experienced the death of a loved one.
How can friends and family best support someone experiencing/struggling with grief during the holidays?
It is incredibly important to check in with those who have experienced a loss and acknowledge whatever emotions they are experiencing. Whether it the first holiday season without their loved one or the fifth, it is generally helpful for individuals to know that they are being considered. Finding ways to memorialize someone’s deceased loved one can also be a way to ease their emotional pain.
What is the importance of setting boundaries during the holidays?
For someone who has experienced the death of a loved one, there may be a high level of emotional fatigue. For that reason, they may need to set boundaries during the holiday season. This can range from not attending family functions, to bringing their own car and leaving early. They will likely have to make decisions about what traditions to keep, what to let go off and what to add.
How does an individual set and uphold boundaries with those who do not understand their grief?
Ideally, they need to communicate their thoughts and feelings about the holiday season to those around them. That said, the goal isn’t necessarily to help someone else understand their grief but for the individual who has experienced the loss to care for themselves.
What is the most important thing to remembers during the holiday months for someone walking through grief and loss?
Be compassionate to yourself during this difficult time. Grief can be unpredictable. Make a plan. Communicate with your support system. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF! Think about things you can take off your to do list (perhaps the Christmas card or putting up a tree), consider the things you must do (spending time with family or preparing a meal) and possibly things to add (lighting a candle or donating to charity in honor of your loved one). And remember you can do it all different next year.