December 17, 2015

Grief at the Holidays: Finding Ways to Cope with the Loss of a Loved One

By Tyra Goodman

Bereavement Counselor, CarePartners

There’s no doubt the holidays are a hectic and stressful time. But when you are also grieving the loss of a loved one, the season can be a painful reminder of their absence.

This time of year can be especially challenging for grievers, as the holidays are presented as a time to be cheerful and grateful and enthusiastic and faithful, and the griever often feels the utter lack of any “holiday spirit.” The reality that the griever already feels sad and lonely for their deceased loved one often compounds the feeling of isolation during the holiday season.

If the person who died was the person who coordinated the family holidays or had the most holiday joy, families can struggle trying to find a way to observe the holidays in that person’s absence. And some holidays can be more difficult than others.

Whatever was the significant holiday for the deceased seems to be the most difficult for the survivors. The holiday that had the most joy in the past is often the one that is hardest for the survivors to navigate. It makes the absence of the loved one all the more obvious.

It’s OK to seek counseling

If you’re grieving a loved one’s death and are having a difficult time with the holidays, seeking counseling is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Most people come to counseling because they want to feel different than they currently do. An assessment is a good place to start. Counseling may not feel “normal” to many people, but neither does grief. Counseling can help validate and normalize the ways a person is feeling in his or her grief.

CarePartners offers counseling services for ages 6 through adult. During the holidays, special events are planned to help the bereaved remember their loved ones and cope with loss.

Our routine services are open to adult grievers. Youths ages 6-17 can be seen individually through our Kids Path Program. All services start with an individual assessment.

Give yourself time

There are lots of social functions during the holidays, and those can be especially difficult when you’re just not in the holiday spirit. Here are some tips:

• Be flexible. Make a plan, and give yourself permission to cancel it. You can show up for a holiday gathering, but drive yourself, park on the street so you can leave easily, tell yourself before you go that you only have to stay as long as you feel you want to.

• Include the deceased person in the holiday conversation by speaking about him or her, or by making their favorite dish.

• Do something different. If you don’t want to decorate this year, you don’t have to. Give yourself time and space to feel your feelings.

• Spend time with other grievers. You may feel a glimmer or spark of lightness or happiness during this time and that’s a nice thing.

Things to keep in mind if you’re grieving during the holidays

• Just because the world appears happy and cheerful doesn’t mean you have to do the same.

• It’s OK to say no.

• It’s normal to feel sad and lonely for the person who died.

• Find people in your world who are supportive to you, no matter how you feel.

Tyra Goodman, LCSW, is a bereavement counselor at CarePartners. To learn more about grief services at CarePartners, call 828-251-0126.