Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Grief and the Holidays

Since I was a teenager, I have lost every single loving adult relative in my life, and I have also experienced the loss of a child. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised when I get requests from time to time to discuss how to handle the grief of loss during the holiday season. The following is a list of things that have worked for me. They are by no means inclusive, but perhaps some folks will find them helpful.

1. Grieve. Take the time to be sad, angry, quiet or talkative about the lost loved one. I really think we do grief badly in this country. It's almost as if the day after the funeral life should be back to normal, but for someone who has lost a dear friend or a loved one, that "normal" life is over and it takes time to find out what the new normal is.

2. It sounds like a cliche but it's true - time really does take the sting of pain away. Not that it's ever gone all the way, but the intense, breath sucking sadness does fade with time - take hope in that.

3. Make new traditions that include your deceased loved one if that helps. We have visited my baby's grave site every Christmas Eve since the year he died. We put little tea lights out, sprinkle the grave with glitter and sing Silent Night. It has become our ritual. Last year we included my mom's grave too. And apparently we aren't alone. The cemetery can be a beautiful place at Christmas time with wreaths and decorations. I found a lot of comfort and even cheer in seeing that.

4. If it's too painful to do the same things during the holidays that you did with the deceased, then do something new! Change the menu up, or go and see a different Christmas program or participate in a different Christmas activity. Change can be good too.

5. If Christmas is too painful - downplay it. There are other meanful days during the winter months for Catholics - like Epiphany or Feast of the Holy family. Find the ways of honoring our Lord and celebrating his incarnation that aren't as loaded. If you use to go to Midnight mass, try a mass on Christmas Day, or even visit a different church. Let the beauty of the season fill your senses without triggering some of the sadness that comes with holiday associations.

6. Sometimes less is more. That goes with celebrating Christmas and New years too! Give yourself permission to skip the Christmas cards, or forget the sugar cookies this year. It's okay and people will understand.

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