If you’ve recently lost a loved one, you might be bracing for the holidays. Thinking of spending that time without your
loved one can feel daunting, to say the least. But having some knowledge of grief and how to process it may help you traverse
this challenging time.
Know Grief Is Complicated
It’s not surprising that the first year of loss is the most difficult because of all of the “firsts” without your
loved one. This is especially true at the holidays. But understand that there is no timetable for grief because it’s so
complex, says Celia M.R. Blum, MSW, LSW,
Doylestown Health Hospice bereavement coordinator. The second year can
be equally difficult, yet different, she adds. Part of the reason is that death is only one dimension of the loss and the
finality tends to sink in over time.
“When we look at loss, we don’t just lose the person. We lose all of the things that we associate with that person and
our routine; the predictability that we had with that person is all thrown to the wind,” Celia says.
What makes the holidays so challenging is that you can’t get away from the holidays and your memories associated with
them. Still, there are steps you can take to manage your way (and your feelings) through the holiday season.
If it’s a new loss, one of the best things to do is “lean into the loss.” This means remaining open to the loss,
regardless of how painful it is, versus tensing up and fighting those feelings, according to Celia.
“It’s really taking that deep breath and saying, ‘Okay, this is going to be a hell of year and it’s going to be a
really hard holiday. I know this is going to be difficult,’” she explains. This limits some of the surprise that comes with
grief — making it somewhat more manageable.
Honor the Individual
Another way to help process grief at the holidays is by honoring the individual who passed, also known as engaging in
rituals of remembrance. “These are opportunities to honor and remember our loved ones at any time of year, but can be
especially helpful during the holidays,” says Celia. “When we have rituals of remembrance that remind us of our loved one,
it keeps us connected.”
These rituals might include sharing memories or funny stories of the loved one during the holidays or explaining what
you’re grateful for that you learned from him or her. Other rituals could include lighting a candle or making a toast in his
or her honor at a holiday meal. They also might include serving that individual’s favorite drink or dessert.
“It’s okay to say my mom’s favorite dessert was strawberry shortcake and that’s what we’re going to have for our
dessert at Christmas,” Celia notes. “That brings her right into the room.”
Other ways to honor loved ones can include placing an extra chair at the holiday table or even wearing their favorite piece
It’s easy to get wrapped up into what others want during the holidays, but when you’re grieving, that pressure it can
seem insurmountable. For this reason, it’s important to take care of yourself, known as self-care. Take a break and a breath
and think about what brings you peace, joy and/or pleasure to help get you through this time, says Celia. This could mean going
on a walk, getting a massage, taking a ride, exercising, spending time with friends or a beloved pet, gardening, listening to
music or engaging in meditation or prayer.
“Anything that allows you to have a bit of peace, a bit of relaxation and a break from the strain is what I would say are
components of self-care and essential to healthy grieving,” she explains.
It’s important to note that everyone manages grief differently and that could mean
not acknowledging the holidays the traditional way, especially the first year, notes Celia. She tells of a family who
went away the first holiday season because it was too painful for them to be in their home. Another family renamed the holidays
in a lighthearted way to alleviate the emotional pressure that comes with them.
“For some people, self-care is creating a new beginning and new memories… and creating new memories is healthy,” Celia
says. “Still, there’s no one way or right way to do this. Think about what works best for you and for your family for this
year. It’s important to take every year differently because how you feel the first year is not what you will feel in years
ahead. And you can reevaluate your plans and intentions every year.”
To learn more about helping yourself cope with loss, Celia is conducting an hour-long, virtual seminar,
“Coping with the Holidays,” on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, at 5pm.
About Doylestown Health Hospice
When a patient's life expectancy is six months or less, comfort care options may be needed. Doylestown Health Hospice provides expert pain management, symptom-control techniques, caregiver relief, psychosocial and spiritual support, bereavement support, medical therapies and palliative care. Our compassionate approach to end-of-life care includes physician services, registered nurses, a chaplain, a social worker, home health aides, volunteers, and bereavement counselors who work together to help the entire family during these very difficult times.