• Thank you for posting this article. It really helped a friend of mine who just lost her mother.

    From Valerie Cantone
    November 14, 2011

The Holiday Paradox: Surviving Grief during Seasonal Celebrations

There are many of us who look forward to the traditional winter holidays with joy. The excitement is so omnipresent that as a culture, we only give a small nod to Thanksgiving before Christmas decorations and music are everywhere (a minor irritation to many of us trying to live a mindful, present life). However, for those of us who have lost someone special, the Holidays can be a sorrowful reminder.

At holiday time, we not only grieve for the person who died, but also for the life we lived with that person or for the dream of what that life was supposed to look like. People are reminded, once again, that real death, real loss, doesn’t happen all at once. It happens over time with little reminders like a familiar scent, or big reminders like a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with an empty chair.

Judy Heath, a Psychotherapist and author with over 20 years of experience in bereavement counseling reminds us, “Holiday celebrations are interwoven with memories of our loved ones and when we face those holidays without him/her it may become almost unbearable. When we are surrounded with the sights and sounds of the approaching holidays, we are reminded again and again that our lives have changed forever.” Although grief may suddenly intensify during the holidays and people may think they are going backwards in their mourning, Judy assures individuals that this is a natural part of the grieving process and that individuals need to find comfort in knowing they are exactly where they need to be.

It’s important to look ahead at the approaching holidays and prepare yourself for any emotional shifts that may arise. Here are a few suggestions by Judy Heath, MSW, LISW, that may help:

1. Be patient with yourself – Forget the “shoulds”. Don’t send out cards or feel obligated to decorate, if you don’t want to. 

2. Be Realistic – Don’t try to hide difficult moments.

3. Plan Ahead – Grievers lack concentration, so make lists!

4. Change something – Sometimes folks don’t want to have that empty chair at the table so they decide to do something different. They may celebrate at someone else’s home or take a trip. Think what might make you comfortable and then have a “Plan B” – just in case. It is often hard to predict how you’ll feel on that day. I knew one lady who volunteered at a soup kitchen.

5. Let people help you – Cooking, cleaning, shopping, decorating – let others pitch in. Grief is lonely and zaps your energy.

6. Decide ahead if you want to hang your loved one’s stocking, etc.

7. Sometimes people have a special ritual in memory of the deceased. Light a candle, tell stories about the person who passed, look at pictures.

8. Some churches have special services for those in grief.

For more information on moving through grief, or to purchase Judy Heath’s book, No Time for Tears: Surviving Grief in America, go to: http://www.judyheath.net/

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