No apologies needed when coping with grief during the holidays
By Aynsley Anderson Sosinski, Lawrence Memorial Hospital
Joy to the world! Merry Christmas! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
These are often phrases that we hear as the holidays near, but anticipation of the holidays does not always bring excitement and enjoyment for everyone.
Many individuals who have experienced a loss — either from death, divorce or a move far away from loved ones — may actually approach the holiday season with a sense of dread, emptiness and pain, knowing that things will never be the same. Memories from the past may emerge that trigger renewed feelings of grief and sadness over their loss and life change.
There is no right or wrong way to handle the holiday season. Some find comfort in engaging in familiar traditions and rituals, while others may wish to entirely change the way things are done. Do what feels best and right for you and your family, with no apologies needed.
Here are some more tips for coping as shared by Reverend Angela Lowe, director of spiritual care and staff chaplain at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
- Honor your loved one or your past life during the holiday season in some way. Suggestions include: giving a donation to an organization that you or the deceased were connected with; making a holiday decoration that represents the spirit of your loved one and then sharing these with others who also knew and loved the person you lost; or lighting a candle, hanging a wreath or contributing to a floral arrangement at your faith community in their memory. Lowe notes that she remembers her deceased loved ones when she decorates her Christmas tree with ornaments that used to belong to them.
- Be forgiving of and patient with yourself for things that you are not able to do now that you may have done in the past. Take care of yourself by getting adequate sleep, regular exercise, eating nutritious meals and avoiding using too much alcohol or other drugs. Know that it is OK to cry.
- Reach out to others. Accept invitations to be with family and friends whose company you enjoy. Don’t be afraid to express your feelings when you are with others, and allow them to comfort you. Share remembrances of your lost loved one and let others tell you stories that will lead to pleasant memories and feelings for you.
- Keep yourself busy. You need to work through your grief but you don’t need to focus on it all the time. Invite a friend to go to a movie or out to dinner, or volunteer to help others, by taking a meal to a homebound person, helping with a community holiday meal or visiting someone who is alone.
- Know that the grieving process has no set timetable. Individuals grieve at different levels and time frames. It takes time to accept the new normal. Refrain from stating to a grieving friend, “Just get over your loss.”
- Seek support. Consult a healthcare professional if symptoms of depression are present or persistent. Lowe recommends Headquarters Counseling Center’s hotline, 800-273-8255 (TALK) as a 24/7 suicide prevention resource. They have trained volunteer counselors available to listen. Many funeral homes, faith communities and community counseling centers offer individual grief or loss counseling or support groups. Lowe facilitates a twice-monthly grief support group at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. For more information, contact her at 785-505-3140.
- Visit online resources. Try griefshare.org. Lowe also recommends visiting the website of Barbara Karnes, a renowned hospice nurse, who has an excellent blog and links to grief resources at bkbooks.com/barbara-karnes.
—Aynsley Anderson Sosinski, MA, RN, is Community Education Coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, which is a major sponsor of WellCommons. She is a Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach. She can be reached at email@example.com.