Studies since 1977 have shown that mortality rates increase at this time of year. Additionally statistics regarding emergency admissions to hospital on public holidays indicate the patient is 48% more likely to die than on regular days. Whatever the cause of death, it means at this time of year, many people are coping with holiday grief.
In any case it matters not what time of the year a loved one dies, the fact that families are getting together and having fun only serves to accentuate the emotions of grief. An empty chair, no gift to buy, no visit to make leaves a gap that cannot be filled. If a member of your circle is grieving, take the time to consider their feelings.
Helping Someone Deal with Holiday Grief
Let them Talk
Don’t pretend that the death didn’t happen. Give the grieving person opportunities to talk about their loved one. Sometimes the pain is welling up in them and a quiet word and a hug is what they need. Everyone experiences grief in an individual way, so don’t make the mistake of expecting them to ‘get through it’ or to be the same person they were before their loss. There’s no convenient grief timetable. Grief is messy, people deal with it and then they don’t. Be prepared for all eventualities.
Make a Ritual
Acknowledge the passing by lighting a candle in their memory, one of the gathering might like to say a few words, but do make sure you let the grieving person know beforehand. A softly-spoken prayer might be appropriate before the festivities commence.
Often sharing stories about a deceased loved one is the best way to remember them. Anecdotes about their adventures in life, the funny things they said, or their quirky habits are wonderful to acknowledge that they are missed. They also get people remembering the good times, rather than the sad. If anyone has photos to share, even better – as long as the grieving person is okay about it. Always consult them first before dragging out the family album.
Speak Their Name
The grieving aren’t upset by hearing their deceased loved one’s name. Quite the opposite. It’s lovely when others acknowledge the gap the person has left in their lives, that they remember them fondly. Often the bereaved doesn’t get enough opportunity to talk about their special person, so don’t be afraid to bring them into the conversation.
Give them Space
While you might feel bad that a member of the family can’t bring themselves to join in the celebrations, make sure you give them the space they need. Be considerate about their feelings and maybe turn the celebratory volume down a notch or two. Check on them regularly and offer refreshments. Sit with them a while if they want you to.
If weather permits,after the meal is over, why not offer to drive the bereaved person to a place that was important to the deceased? Go for a walk – the fresh air has a marvelous way of lifting the psyche and connecting the living with the spirits. Look out for signs – feathers, birds, etc., that can reassure the living that they are not forgotten.
Not Only this Year
Remember that the holidays act like a focus for anyone who is mourning a loved one. They may be coping well through the year until the holidays throw their pain right at them again. So it might not be just this year, but every year that they feel sad and bereft. Grief has a way of manifesting at any time. Someone might appear to cope well during the first year, but are hit hard two, three, five, ten years down the line.
If You Are Trying to Cope with Holiday Grief
Don’t Suppress Grief
Whatever you do, don’t try to push your grief aside for the sake of not upsetting others. Instead of viewing the holiday as a time of struggle, see it as an opportunity to express how you are feeling. Explain to your host how important it is for you to acknowledge your loved one during this time. Suggest one of the short rituals above.
Tell Them What You Need
Your family will appreciate it if you tell them what you need during the holiday. If you prefer company, then say so. If you’d rather have time alone, then tell them. Don’t subjugate your wishes in order to keep everyone happy. Your feelings are important, especially at this time of year. Do remember that your nearest and dearest can’t read your mind – they won’t instinctively know what will help and what will not. Say what you need in the way of support from them.
Only you know how it feels inside, so make sure to schedule some time for yourself. Give yourself permission to enjoy a treat. Whether it be a country walk, a couple of hours to read, watch TV, or a long soak in a hot bubble bath. Do something you really love to do.
You are Allowed to Cry
If the tears must come, then let them. Acting as if everything is okay when it isn’t is not good for you. You are grieving, so grieve. Tears are part of the process so don’t worry if you are smiling one moment and then in floods of tears the next. Your family might not know how to cope, so explain to them that you are all right but just need to cry a little.
Have a Drink
By all means have a holiday tipple, but don’t let it get out of hand. Numbing pain with alcohol is not a good way to deal with it. It’ll just return twice as hard.
Don’t Feel Guilty
Guilt is not permitted. If you find you are having fun, go with it. There are no rules about how you are supposed to behave. It’s good to laugh. If the occasion is joyous and you feel joyful, then give yourself up to it. That’s what holidays are for.
If You are Alone
Being alone during the holidays can be both distressing and a blessing. There is nothing wrong with simply ignoring the time of year all together. Make yourself a plan to get through it. Line up some non-festive TV for yourself. Stay off the internet for the duration unless you have some favorite sites that make you happy. Make whatever phone calls you need to make and settle in for a self-comforting week.
If you are up to it, volunteer a local homeless shelter, animal shelter, food bank, community kitchen or whatever you feel drawn to. For example, seeing-eye charities are often looking for foster carers for their puppies in training – if you have experience with dogs, contact your local branch and offer your home and love for the holidays. It’s amazing how a gorgeous half-grown pup can lift the spirits and take you away from pain.
When the Holidays are Over
Give yourself credit for dealing with holiday grief. Your strategies worked, you coped well. With any luck you have some happy, fresh memories to look back on. You did good.
Images via Pixabay