Holidays can be a joyous time of the year for many – it’s a time for family and friends, parties and celebrations, good food and holiday cheer – ingredients for a storybook-like holiday. For those who have lost a loved one, however, the holidays can be a time of overwhelming sadness and grief.
The clichéd images of family togetherness and the often unrealistic expectations of a season filled with picture-perfect joyful gatherings can cause tremendous stress for those who are not grieving – let alone those in the midst of the painful, isolating experience of loss.
So what can you do to help alleviate the pain of missing a loved one so much?
Everyone grieves differently. Mourning is an individual and personal experience.
There is no magic pill to fix it, but sometimes by creating new rituals and traditions that pay tribute to the memory of the deceased is one way to survive, and perhaps even embrace, the holidays when a loved one has died.
Here are some suggestions from the Center for Grief & Healing at Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island:
• Recognize and acknowledge that this holiday season will be different from all the others.
• Buy a tree ornament each year to remember your loved one.
• Hang up a Christmas stocking for your loved one and ask everyone to write a special note to put in it.
• Go somewhere new to celebrate the holiday.
• Volunteer your time. Bringing joy to another is a great way to lighten your own grief.
• Decorate a wreath with photos and special possessions of your loved one and place the wreath at his or her grave.
• Make a memory book and fill it with pictures and memorabilia about the deceased and share it with one another.
• Make a donation to a favorite charity in the person’s honor.
• Encourage children who’ve lost a loved one to draw pictures and create gifts inspired by their memories of the deceased to give to other family members.
• Decorate a candle and light it at mealtime in memory of your loved one. If you celebrate Chanukah, recall a memory of the deceased on each of the eight nights that you light the Menorah.
• Change routines that have been a part of your tradition – the time you open your gifts, eat the holiday meal, etc.
• Wrap a favorite keepsake of the deceased or a framed picture of your loved one, and give it as a gift to another grieving family member.
• Realize that you can change your mind. If earlier decisions do not feel right as the time approaches, then do not follow through. Listen to your heart.
• Be gentle with yourself.
Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island has several grief support groups that are open to the public. Refer to their website at www.hhcri.org for details or call the Center for Grief & Healing at 415-4300 for more information.
Deanna Upchurch is the Senior Grief Counselor at Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island.