One of the most difficult times for bereaved persons is that period between Thanksgiving Day and the second day of January. Many bereaved individuals have found the following suggestions to be practical and effective in helping them cope with grief and manage holiday depression.
1. Be Yourself
Tell yourself, “It’s okay to be me this Christmas!” Do what you need to do in order to manage your grief during the holidays. It’s okay if you do not mail Christmas cards, give gifts, or decorate this year. You may feel a need to take a trip, change some of the family traditions, or simply to cry at times. Nowhere is it “cut in stone” that the family must meet at your home for Christmas dinner, even though they have always done so. In years past you were not experiencing grief, but this year you may feel that entertaining the family is more than you can handle.
Because you know your feelings better than anyone else, you know your physical, emotional, and mental capacities and limitations. Out of love for yourself, and by exercising common sense, decide what you are able to do and not able to do. Do not feel that you have to make explanations or offer apologies. Once you have made your decision, stick with your decision. Do not choose to feel guilty or permit others to make you feel guilty.
2. Take Care of Yourself
The old myth is that bereaved people need to “hold up” and “be strong” for other members of the family. It is important that a person who has suffered a traumatic loss be able to grieve. This is necessary if the healing process is to have a chance to work.
Face your feelings; express your grief; and come to terms with how you honestly feel. Assure yourself that you will not always experience this much pain. You are moving through grief toward a new life.
Pay close attention to your health. Get proper diet and exercise. Your doctor can provide a list of foods and nutrition that you need. Exercise helps to relieve the stress that is present in grief. Drink water. Get adequate rest. Stress makes it difficult for one to rest and sleep. Set aside specific blocks of time in which you rest, even if you do not sleep. Learn to relax. Your doctor, the local mental health office, and the local library can provide you with helpful materials on how to relax.
3. Get Organized
Designing your own plan—which is based on your own particular situation—will help you get organized and bring some structure and definition to your life which has been disorganized and chaotic due to the loss of your loved one.
Planning and preparing will also reduce some of the stress that is present during the holidays. Getting organized, designing a schedule, and sticking to your plan will greatly reduce your stress and anxiety, and will enable you to function and regain control of your life.
4. Make Necessary Choices
You may feel that Christmas shopping is more than you can handle this year. And, if you do not feel like shopping this year, you might consider giving money as gifts, doing catalog shopping by telephone, or ordering gifts from one of the home-shopping channels on television or the Internet.
If you do decide to go shopping, do only as much as you feel you are able to do at any one given time. Do not force yourself to do what you are not able to do.
An alternative to the traditional family Christmas meal that has always been at your home would be to take your relatives and loved ones to a restaurant.
5. Let Loved Ones Help
Those who love you will be glad to help with shopping, cleaning, decorating, cooking, and other responsibilities. Loved ones will appreciate your mentioning specific ways they can help. We are wise to ask for and receive help because we are not Superman or Superwoman!
6. Keep Life Simple
This is good advice for everyday living, but it is especially applicable for those who are facing the holidays following the loss of a loved one. Eliminate unnecessary responsibilities and activities. Follow the sage old advice: Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!
When we are experiencing grief it is difficult for us to take care of even the most basic chores and responsibilities. Our energy is depleted due to the added stress.
Recall how difficult it was for you to function during the days following surgery or how painful it was to move about after you had badly sprained your ankle. The same rule applies to the time following the loss of a loved one. When we are injured it is difficult to do what we could normally do.
Thus, the holidays are a time to keep things simple.
7. Write a Letter to Your Deceased Loved One
Many have discovered the positive and therapeutic value of writing a personal letter to a deceased loved one. Writing such a letter provides you with the opportunity to express all of your memories and feelings (negative and positive). It is a means of expressing all those unsaid things you wish you had said. Letter-writing can result in a healing experience, and it can also play a vital role in acceptance and recovery.
8. Share Your Feelings
Experience and wisdom teach us the importance of talking out our grief with someone who will listen. This may be a trusted friend, clergy person, or counselor.
As you verbalize and ventilate those deep feelings and memories, you express and release that which is causing you to be anxious and depressed. Talking out your feelings provides you with an opportunity to explore your feelings and thoughts, and to come to terms with how you really feel. Such ventilation and expression play an important role in re-stabilizing your life and re-establishing tranquility, harmony, and balance.
9. Attend a Grief Support Group
In this setting you will find yourself surrounded by an atmosphere of acceptance, understanding, support, and nurture. You will be with persons who are able to reach out to you because they, too, have experienced the pain of loss. Here you will find the kind of acceptance that gives you permission to be yourself and express exactly how you feel without apology. Grief support groups have played a critical role in the recovery of many bereaved persons.
10. Learn about Grief
Educate yourself. Read materials written by professionals who specialize in this field. Listen to audio tapes and compact disks which have been prepared specifically to provide assistance to bereaved persons. Contact your local funeral home and ask for educational materials regarding grief. Discuss the matter with those who have suffered a loss and who know what grief is.
11. Turn to God
Many bereaved individuals have shared how, in leaning on God during their deepest sorrow, they have experienced His love, support, and security. Through Him the power and strength of the universe come into our broken and shattered lives, and we bereaved human beings are made whole. God is greater than any problem we have, and this means that God is greater than grief!