The holiday season can be overwhelming for those who have recently lost a loved one or for those who are still experiencing grief from an earlier loss.
Demands on our time and energy to have a perfect holiday "just like it used to be" are unrealistic and unhealthy for everyone and especially so for the bereaved.
New York State's largest hospice program, the Community Hospice, has shared suggestions to help the bereaved cope with the emotional demands of the season:
In this season of peace and joy, acknowledge that life is worth living.
Slow Down and Enjoy What's Important to You
Take time and make time for the people and things that really matter.
Treasure the Old and Welcome the New
Every holiday is filled with expectations, memories of holidays past, as well as people we have loved who may no longer be in our lives. Treasure your memories but allow this holiday season to evolve, with its own special surprises and cherished moments.
Take Care of Yourself
Consider what supportive and caring things you can do for yourself this holiday season. Find those people who encourage you to be yourself and accept your feelings - both happy and sad.
State Your Needs
Don't be afraid to express your feelings of grief. Include the loved one's name in your holiday conversations.
Seek Balance at This Hectic Time
Holidays are a time of parties and pressures, of frenzied schedules and frazzled nerves. Make time for exercise — a great pick-me-up. Go easy on alcoholic beverages. Eat nourishing, light meals.
Avoid Over-Doing It
Feelings of loss will probably leave you fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Lower your expectations for now. Don't feel obligated to do all the cleaning, baking and decorating you might have done in the past. Set limitations.
Decide the family traditions you want to continue, and add new ones after the death of someone loved. Structure your holiday time. This will help you to anticipate activities, rather than just reacting to whatever happens.
Do What is Right For You During the Holidays
Well-meaning friends and family often try to prescribe what is good for you during the holidays. Instead of going along with their plans, focus on what you personally want to do.
Embrace Your Treasure of Memories
Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. Holidays always make you think about times past. Instead of ignoring these memories, share happy remembrances with your family and friends.
If you feel that the upcoming holiday season will be very difficult for you to manage emotionally, ask your family funeral director for the name of a local bereavement counselor who can help you.
Community Hospice sponsors special holiday grief recovery programs. Check with your local Hospice for a schedule of these support sessions which are usually free of charge.
Remember the words of Helen Keller, "What we have once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us."