Grief is one of the hardest things we can experience, the longing to be with someone we love and have lost is incredibly painful.
There is something to be said about the heightened pain we experience around the holidays when we are still in grief. Grief can evoke a feeling of helplessness and sorrow for a lot of people as all we want for Christmas is to be with the one we lost and make the pain go away.
While I wish I could offer more to those who are experiencing grief this up-coming holiday, I hope this list of the do’s and don’t around self-care, processing emotions, gifts, traditions, tributes, help from others, preparation and so on, alleviates some of the stress of figuring out how to manage grief over the holiday.
1. Its okay to be sad during the ‘happiest time of the year’. Don’t let the expectations around the holiday season force you to feel anything other than what you are feeling. Its normal to be sad and no amount of expected ‘cheer’ and joy will change that.
2. Expect that you are going to experience the heaviness way before the holiday itself. The anticipation and build up towards the holiday can be the worst.
3. The main Goal should be to avoid as much undue stress as possible.
4. How do you avoid suppressing emotions? Feel what your feel as you’re feeling it, just let the cry come, yes even the ugly cry.. Trying to push your emotions away or change your emotions into something else never gets you where you need to go.
5. Don’t hold the belief that everything has to remain the same, that all the traditions must continue. That’s too much pressure to keep up with.
6. Don’t feel rushed to grieve, society expects us to ‘move on’ quickly. There is no set timeline on grief.
7. Accept this year will be different. You will feel and be different while in grief.
8. Avoid complete escapism of grief. Doing different things to reduce the stress and pain of the holiday is okay, avoiding the reality of the situation is not, and will likely lead to suppression of emotions that tends to turn into anger..
9. Express emotions don’t hide them. Even if it comes out all of a sudden when checking out at the grocery store… seriously I’ve done it.
10. Expect and accept the fact it’s going to be a painful time. If you can go into the holidays with the mind frame that it’s going to be difficult, you reduce the pressure of trying to feel good about the holidays.
11. Its normal and okay to feel angry with God or the universe. It can feel confusing to be angry with god especially around the time of Christmas.
12. Sometimes grief can be delayed through most of the year and can surface during the holidays.
13. Let others know its okay to express emotions. You might find other don’t want to show their sadness around you because they feel its invalid in comparison.
14. Remember you are allowed to feel happy during the holiday too. It doesn’t mean you love them any less or that your grief isn’t real.
15. When stuck in guilt/shame/grief, ask yourself: would your loved one want you to hurt for them everyday? Or to prove you loved them with your grief?
16. Journal your feelings. It can be helpful to have your thoughts on something external
17. Be kind to yourself
18. Be selfish. In this instance taking care of yourself is crucial
19. Feel what you need to feel and not what others want you to. Your job isn’t to help others grieve or make them happy.
20. Watch a comedy movie
21. Don’t do things out of guilt, “they would want you too…”
22. Watch the words “i have too”, you don’t have to do anything. These words have loads of pressure behind it. Try “I want to (go to this party), because (the people who love me the most will be there)”
23. Remember it’s not your problem if others cant accept the changes that come with grief
24. Watch what you eat. Not only is there more food around the holidays but there is also more junk food. Food is an easy way to trigger the reward and pleasure centers in our brain. When we are in grief this can feel more rewarding than normal.
25. Watch your alcohol intake. Excessive drinking is naturally problematic. Drinking while in grief can be a far easier way to numb the emotions and can quickly become a bad habit.
26. Self care, self care, self care – remember you can’t give what you don’t have. If you don’t invest in self care if might just mean you have less to give.
27. Moms specifically re-read #26, be sure to slow down and take care of yours. In the process of taking care of everyone else you might just delay your own grief, it will likely catch up to you. Don’t let that happen, take care of yourself along the way.
28. Write a personally meaningful mantra and carry it with you and hold it when in distress
29. Find a way to center yourself through prayer, mindfulness and meditation
30. Use humor where you can
31. Read your favorite bible passages
32. Minimize or reduce the amount of Christmas decorations you put out
33. Cancel the holidays if you need to. Seriously. There will be another one next year. Be sure to have plans in place if you decide to skip the holidays this year.
34. Avoid family events where you can’t express what your feeling. These events might not feel safe for you.
35. Plan as much as you need to eliminate surprises that can be harder to deal with.
36. Stay home from events if you need. Don’t feel like you have to do everything over the holiday.
37. Go to holiday events in separate cars and don’t park where someone can park behind you and block you in (this helps ensure you have a way out if needed).
38. Have an exit-plan, Just having an exit plan can help reduce the feeling of anxiety even if you never plan on using it. It’s kind of like air bags, you hope you don’t need them but its comforting to know its there.
39. It won’t be just the first holiday that will be difficult
40. If holiday dinner feels like too much to plan for, order out, ask someone to do the cooking or pot luck!
41. Go away somewhere warm if you choose to skip the holidays this year (caution: don’t try to avoid your grief)
42. Or travel somewhere they always wanted to go or loved going
43. Pace yourself and don’t over commit to events. Remember the idea at this time of the year is to reduce pressure, stress and the ‘I have to’ language. Make a list of the events or people that you feel the most uplifting and work from there.
44. Ignore people’s expectations of you
45. Avoid people who make you feel uncomfortable, awkward or wrong for feeling grief
46. Avoid people that you typically feel are stressful and aren’t great with knowing how to read the room
47. Don’t harbor hard feelings for how others are processing their grief. Everyone has a different process for grieving and finds different meaning and memory in different traditions
48. Tell people what you do and don’t want out of the holiday
49. Communicate and negotiate with everyone beforehand about what holiday traditions or tasks will and won’t be done, and by who.
50. If people in your life can’t understand why you haven’t sent out cards or shown up to a party, that’s their problem. Don’t invest any emotional energy into having to explain yourself..
51. Make a list of traditions you DO want to keep
52. Make a list of traditions you want to end
53. Make a list of traditions you want to start
54. It’s okay if someone else wants to continue a tradition that you don’t, or vice versa. Let them do their things while you do your own.
55. Remember that it’s okay if the way others will want to spend the holiday does not align with how you to spend the holiday. Your job is not to make them happy.
HELP FROM OTHERS
56. When people offer to help take it! Now is not the time to take pride from doing everything yourself.
57. Ask for help. Sometimes people wont think to make the obvious offer but might be more than happy to run the errands you just don’t have the energy to do yourself.
58. Turn towards those you trust
59. Attend grief group therapy
60. Attend individual therapy
61. Reach out to people you might be losing touch with by dropping off a batch of homemade cookies. You can reconnect with someone you lost touch with.
62. Process grief and anger with pastor
63. Make a list of people that you feel you can call and lean on when you are having the ugly cry.
TRIBUTE TO THOSE WE LOST
64. The more you can do to remember the person, the better
65. Hang a Christmas stocking and write a new memory and put it in the stocking each day. Read them all on Christmas morning.
66. When you find yourself stressing about the day of their death, celebrate the ways they contributed to your life
67. Make a little mason jar collection of little things that make you think of them
68. Create a new tradition where everyone shares a memory about your loved one, let people know to come prepared with a happy memory. This helps people know that it’s okay to talk about your loved one.
69. Put a picture of them above the place they liked to sit back and relax the most
70. Create a small Christmas tree and use only ornaments you made for them or ones that make you think of them
71. Buy a coffee for a stranger. While in a drive through, pay for the persons drink behind you. While at the drive through window leave a card for the staff to give to the person whose drink was paid for, that identifies that the drink was bought in honor of the one you love, and if you feel like it, add a fun fact about the person.
72. Make a music playlist of songs that make you think of good times together
73. Set a place at the table for the one who was lost. If it’s too difficult to have that seat empty, suggest the youngest family member have the honor of sitting in that chair.
74. Ask people to come prepared with a positive memory to share at dinner.
75. Have a younger child tell a story first, they tend to say the darnedest things and can unintentionally get people laughing, breaking the tension and setting the tone of sharing stories
76. Find something symbolic of theirs and bring it out
77. Make sure to take time each day not just to grieve but to think about positive and happy memories about the one you lost.
78. Use old family recipes from those who have passed on
79. Donate a bench in a park with their name on it.
80. Bake and decorate cookies with a cookie cutter that makes you think of them
81. Light a candle for each year they were alive
82. Write a special moment for each year your loved one was alive
83. Make a list of your loved ones greatest accomplishments, achievements or moments
84. Write a letter to them
85. Learn to play their favorite song on an instrument
86. Take of few of their belongings that you are ready to part with and give them to someone in need. Eg. clothes to a homeless shelter
87. Visit your loved ones burial site and decorate it
88. Send them a private message on social media expressing your grief of how much you love and miss them.
89. Write a social media tribute to them highlighting a positive holiday memory
90. Pull out old photos and prepare a slideshow or video collage
91. Shop online if it feels too emotionally exhausting to go out to shop, don’t stress about the shipping cost this doesn’t have to become a habit.
92. Buy something really special for yourself that you otherwise wouldn’t have bought, wrap it and address it from the person you love that has passed.
93. Don’t exchange gifts if you don’t feel like your in the giving mood. Materialistic things can have different meaning around the holidays.
94. Practice gratitude, as impossible as it seems, find the things that you’re still grateful for. connect with the ways they positively impacted your life. Eg. I’m blessed that I had someone who loved me so deeply,
95. Death is often a reminder of life for the living. Use this time to reflect on what you are grateful for.
OTHERS IN NEED
96. Go work in a soup kitchen. Giving back can feel wonderful
97. Donate flowers to your place of worship in your loved ones name
98. Prepare the kids that the holidays will likely feel different this year
99. Be sure kids are involved in some way.
100. Let kids know they will experience both happy and sad feelings and that it’s normal
101. Adopt a family to support over the holiday season, by providing a family with some of their Christmas gifts. Making their holiday brighter, might feel really good when you know yours may be disappointing.
102. Do acts of kindness that make you feel good: Shovel someone else’s driveway that might struggle to do it themselves
103. Spend time around pets or visit an animal shelter
104. Adopt a pet you bonded with, the new bond can help you cope with grief
Grief is something we all experience at some point in our lives, it’s important to remember that you are not alone in this. It takes time for that feeling of shock and disbelief to shift.
As long as you are doing what feels right for your healing, reducing stress, managing waves of emotion and finding ways to emotionally connect with your loved one, than you are on the right track.
The steps you take to get there are for you to decide.