“The holidays act as a trigger to grief,” he explained. “Plus, so many people struggle with what they think they ‘should’ feel or do. It’s important to give yourself permission to experience a wide range of emotions.”
Gonzalez offers advice for anyone going through loss during the holidays, and believes coping becomes more manageable with personal self-care and interactions with family and friends.
To begin taking care of yourself, Gonzalez recommends the following self-care tips:
1. Maintain a healthy routine during the holidays. We tend to let go of our regular schedules during this time of the year, when getting enough rest, exercise and healthy eating are most important.
2. Enjoy, but don’t overindulge. A piece of your favorite pumpkin pie may bring much-needed joy, but a batch of cookies every day could have the opposite effect.
3. Allow others to help. The adults who are used to being in charge during the holidays may have trouble letting go. When grieving, however, allowing others to take the lead, or at least help, will go a long way in avoiding overwhelming feelings.
4. Give yourself permission to say “NO.” Especially when someone is grieving, friends want to help by extending invitations. However, because energy levels may be compromised during periods of grief, turning down a few invites may be ok. Each person has different limits, but everyone needs downtown to grieve, rest and experience self-reflection.
With regards to family and friend relationships, Gonzalez offers this advice:
1. Give your family permission to change traditions. Most people worry about what the holidays will be like once a loved one is not there. Allow space to create new rituals to honor that person. Did they usually carve the turkey and say the blessing? Perhaps a good option is to give that honor to a sibling or special friend and allow the family to say the blessing together as a group.
2. Allow for open conversation. Taming the “elephant in the room” often means creating an environment where it is okay to discuss the departed loved one. Share stories and happy memories, which may help to encourage laughter and other emotions that aid in handling grief.
3. Lean on faith-based traditions. Even if you don’t feel ready, going to a religious service or event often provides a great source of comfort and strength in any culture or religion.
4. Be open with children. Children do not always show their feelings outwardly, yet adults shouldn’t assume the feelings don’t exist. Children absorb the tension and emotions of the family. Being open with them will help them to avoid creating imaginary reasons things are different and allow them to express their emotions openly. Older children often feel better if they are allowed to help with holiday traditions such as cooking, helping with meals or passing out gifts. They also may have their own ideas about how to memorialize the loved one with new holiday traditions.
5. Do what’s comfortable for your family. No hard and fast rules exist for handling grief during the holidays. The methods that work vary for each individual and each family.
For more information on how to cope with grief during the holidays, contact Hospice of Broward County at 1.800.HOSPICE in Broward and Palm Beach counties, or 888.848.5200 anywhere in the U.S.or visit www.hobc.org.
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Ellen Crane Schulman, a veteran public relations consultant based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., helps professional services firms, corporations, nonprofits, physicians and other businesses build positive awareness and healthy bottom lines.