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Grieving through the holiday season (plus a pandemic)

By Jennifer Funston, Social Worker, Liberty Hospital Hospice

Grieving the loss of a loved one is a deep and difficult challenge at any time. Family gatherings and seasonal events can be painful reminders of your loss. At the same time, such events also can be comforting rituals where you spend time with friends and loved ones recapturing your sense of joy.

If you are grieving, the holiday season is expected to be bittersweet. As we approach the holidays during this pandemic year we’re also trying to invent different ways of celebrating while trying to stay safe and keep the traditions we love. This holiday season will be an entirely new experience for most people. Grieving while trying to navigate this new world may be challenging. Here are a few ideas that might help you get through this season:

Only do what feels right. It's up to you to decide which activities or events you can handle. Don't feel obligated to participate in anything that doesn't feel doable. If using technology to see family members is too overwhelming, ask people to call you instead.

Accept your feelings — whatever they might be. Everyone grieves in their own way. Some may try to avoid sad feelings; others welcome a good cry. There will also be inevitable ups and downs: you may feel peaceful one moment and gut-wrenchingly sad the next. Accept all of your feelings.

Be honest with family and friends. Talk with loved ones about your emotions. Be honest about how you'd like to do things this year. If you want to talk about those who have passed, then do so, and let others know it's okay. Seek professional support from a therapist if needed. Stay in touch with others who are grieving; online support groups can be very helpful for this.

Focus on the kids. Many holidays place special attention on children, and often it helps to focus on their needs. Even during this different and uncertain time, children will still enjoy themselves. Their happiness can be contagious.

Plan ahead. Sometimes the anticipation is worse than the actual holiday. Create comforting activities in the weeks approaching a holiday so that you have something to look forward to rather than building up a dread of the pain the holiday could bring. New activities might be easier, but familiar traditions might be comforting as well — do what feels best for you. Surrounding yourself with positivity can be very helpful.

Scale back. If the thought of the usual baking, holiday cards and decorating feels painful, overwhelming or inappropriate this year, it’s okay to cut back. Do whatever feels safe and comfortable to you. Create realistic expectations for yourself and others, but above all be gentle with yourself.

Give. It's amazing how in times of grief, sometimes the biggest comfort is to give to others. In times of loss, we often want to do something that will make a difference. 2020 has been a difficult year for many families. Consider reaching out to social service agencies to see how you can help a family in need.

Acknowledge those who have passed on. When we are grieving, it can be helpful to participate in a holiday ritual in the memory of our loved one. Some ideas include: lighting candles for them, talking about them, buying children's toys or books to donate in their name, planting a tree, making a card or writing a letter, displaying their picture or placing an item of theirs among holiday decorations.

Do something different. Acknowledge that things have changed; indeed, the holiday will not be the same as it was. Accepting this will help manage expectations. Plan different activities, especially the first year after the loss. Many families return to their usual routines and rituals after the first year, but some enjoy incorporating their new experiences permanently.

Skip it. If you feel that it will be too much for you and you'd like to simply opt out of participation in a holiday, it’s okay. Just let family and friends know. However, plan alternative comforting activities for yourself and let someone know what you will be doing. It is a good idea to make sure someone checks in with you on that day.

Liberty Hospital Hospice is always available to you. If you find yourself struggling

this season, please reach out to us: 816-407-2200.