Dealing with grief during the holidays can be difficult

Grief and the holidays

It isn’t always happy holidays. This time of the year can be difficult for those who are grieving.

Once meaningful traditions can feel painful, only serving to remind us of who’s missing and amplify feelings of sorrow. This is true for the holiday season, or any other significant days when grief is involved.

We’re left feeling alone, possibly wanting to avoid anything festive, causing a deepening of sadness and isolation. We may want to cancel the whole thing and just survive the season. Just surviving is okay.

Grief is love with no place to go. As grief expert, Alan Wolfelt shared, grief is both a necessity and a privilege. We experience grief because we have loved. It’s a challenging part of being human.

Grief is messy and unpredictable, with no set course and no certain end-date. It shows up in confusing ways, often taking us by surprise. We might try to fake it to make it through the holidays, but feelings of grief and sadness become magnified and leak out all over the place.

What to do? How can we support ourselves or others who are grieving at this time of year?

While there are no simple answers, there are some helpful things to do.

• Acknowledge feelings of grief and talk about it.

• Allow yourself to feel your emotions, they may be a mixed-bag, but feel them without judgment.

• Remember to breathe.

• Connect with understanding, supportive people who care.

• Express your needs, let others know what they are.

• Set healthy boundaries; avoid isolating, but also don’t overschedule. It’s about balance.

• Grief can be exhausting. Respect the limits of your body and mind, lower your expectations of what you’re able to do.

• Be compassionate and understanding with yourself. We can’t shame or “should have” ourselves out of our grief.

• Plan ahead. Discuss plans with others and let them know about changes in plans.

• Talk about the person who died. Don’t be afraid to mention their name.

• Treasure precious memories and share them with family and trusted friends.

• Create new traditions. Decide which traditions you want to change and which ones you want to keep.

• Find a way to honour your memories.

• Take an inventory of the good and positive things in your life.

• Extend kindness to others. That will make you feel better.

• Connect with your faith and express it.

• It’s OK to enjoy the season and to celebrate.

• Seek professional help.

Each of us grieves differently and our grief varies with each loss. Create connections with those close with you by sharing your experience. This helps create connections and is helpful for others to understand where we’re at and how to help.

Remember, grief has many different faces and may not just present as an emotion of sadness. Grief may show up as remoteness, guilt, anxiety, exhaustion, irritability, and anger.

Grief’s so uncomfortable and we can feel powerless to help, so we may want to avoid the topic all together. All of the platitudes in the world won’t help. There are no phrases we can use to magically remove their pain.

When someone we love is grieving, it’s important we don’t take their withdrawal, or need to change traditions, personally. They’re just trying to make it through. Offering understanding support, and encouraging them to participate at the level of their own comfort is helpful.

Check in with friends who are grieving. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they’re doing. Avoiding the topic for fear of reminding them of their loss is like pretending there’s no elephant in the room. Accepting their feelings, and just listening to them and validating their feelings is so important.

The biggest gift we have to offer is our caring, non-judgmental presence. I choose to remember grief specialist, Clair Jantzen’s advice: Just show up, shut up, and listen. See what they need, and then do that.

My heart is around all who are grieving this holiday season.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

An assistant minister at the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, she is a retired nurse with a master’s degree in health science and is a hospice volunteer.  She is also an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan and currently spends her time teaching smartUBC, a unique mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. 

She is a speaker and presenter and from her diverse experience and knowledge, both personally and professionally, she has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people gain a new perspective, awaken and recognize we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, stress or to life. We are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 44 years and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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