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Not-So-Happy Holidays

As the holidays approach, many people are filled with happy anticipation. For most of us, this time means celebrating together with family and friends. For others, however, the holidays are approached with dread.

It is normal for those who have experienced the loss of a loved one to feel an enormous amount of stress at the approach of the holiday season. In fact, the anticipation of holidays can actually be worse for those dealing with bereavement than the actual holiday itself. The holiday season carries with it an expectation that you feel closer to everyone; that you be filled with the “holiday spirit”. While this pressure can be difficult at the best of times, it is even more difficult when you are dealing with grief.

For those dealing with grief, it is most important that you address the approach of this season honestly. Recognize that your distress at the holidays is natural. Make allowances for your feelings, and be honest with your family about what you can and cannot do this year. Try to communicate openly to make your holidays meaningful and bearable. Make sure to take time out from the hustle of the holidays to care for yourself and acknowledge your own needs during this time.

Some of your holiday traditions will bring you comfort, but many may only serve as a painful reminder of the one who is not there. Honor your feelings. Traditions may always be resumed later if you feel capable of taking them on. Do not pressure yourself into more than you can handle. Your family may also consider creating new rituals to honor your loved one. A special candle lit at Thanksgiving, or ornament on the Christmas tree, may create a physical reminder of a loved one who is in there in your thoughts and hearts.

Tears and sadness are natural. They should not ruin the holiday for you and the ones you love. Allow these feelings to come and go throughout the day. This is part of the healing process. Do not feel prohibited from sharing memories or mentioning your loved one. These bittersweet feelings are normal, and should be expressed.

Most importantly, remember that there are no rules or timelines for grief. It doesn’t matter when your loss occurred. Everyone deals with grief in their own way, and that should be respected. No one should feel pressured to behave in a certain way, or to hide what they are feeling. Forced merriment can be far worse than honest sadness.

For those dealing with bereavement, we recommend the book “How To Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies,” by Therese A. Rando.