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Grief During the Holidays

by Nurse Jill

Holidays are usually deliciously sentimental. Folks unwittingly scroll through all their favorite twinkle-light lit memories when the snow starts to fall and the stars brighten toward the end of December. But what do you do when a lot of those memories include someone that has passed? What do you do when your memories make you sad instead of joyful? How do you deal with grief during the most happiest time of the year?

There are lots of opinions out there about how grief works but there is one thing that everyone agrees on–it’s personal. Each person’s grief is a unique road with it’s own varied nuances. So, don’t be surprised or discouraged by a sudden spike in sadness or a renewed awareness of a loved one’s absence during the holidays. Grief never truly goes away, life just gets bigger around it. You will learn how to integrate the memories of your loved one into present reality while you keep living daily life. Despite how it feels, this integration does not devalue or negate the significance of the life of that love one.

One hospice nurse and author, Hadley Vlahos, explains grief as a ball bouncing around the box of our life. In the beginning, the ball of grief is so big in our life that everything you do hits the pain button at the bottom of the box. As time goes on, your box of life gets a little bigger and so the ball hits the pain button less often and usually not quite so hard. But regardless of how big the box of life gets the pain button will still occasionally get pressed.

It is widely known that grief can affect physical health. What’s not as widely known is that in order to process grief you must actually feel it and not avoid it. Grief doesn’t go away if you just avoid the tears. In fact, avoiding grief can potentially increase your sadness and complicate your grief. So the first piece of advice that you’ll find from the experts is to let yourself feel the sadness from the loss and cry the tears. You cannot skirt around grief, you must go through it.

Talking to your support system is a helpful way to process grief. A trusted friend, a close family member, or a good therapist are all good options.Talking about your grief with a trusted support person can give you a safe space to feel your feelings and cry your tears as well as help assure you that you’re not alone. Even a “talk” with nature or your pillow can help you move through the sadness of grief.

Be honest with those around you. Share with your doctor that you are dealing with increased grief feelings. Tell your friends that this holiday season has been a little hard for you. Then accept their help. Instead of saying, “No, that’s ok, I’m fine. I wouldn’t want to burden anyone.” practice saying, “Thank you.” It is imperative to accept help. Many put on a brave face because they think they should be strong but most people you know have lost someone, too. It doesn’t matter how “strong” you are, grief is difficult. Accept help, it will help.

Something else that could help is to actually talk about those that have passed instead of avoiding the subject. It’s ok and even cathartic to talk about those you loved. It’s ok to say their name out loud and mention what they would have found funny or irritating or interesting. Those people are still important in your life even if they are lost to the present. They still influence your life through memories made, wisdom given, love shared, kindness offered, or a whole myriad of other ways that they contributed to and nurtured your life. Send a picture to a friend about what you would have bought your mom if she was still here this Christmas. Call your mom and talk about how your brother would have loved the lit trees on Park Street. Have coffee with a friend at the place you used to all get together and remember those that can no longer come (and bring tissues). Normalize continued cherishing of your important people.

You can even take this one step further. Find a tangible way to honor your loved one and their memory. This could be an ornament that you hang on the tree every year. It could be a candle lit in remembrance of them at your special holiday dinner. You could have all the other family members share a favorite memory or what they miss the most about that individual. You could even write your loved one a letter or make a thankful list of all the ways they loved you well.

Grief is never easy but it is specially not easy during the holiday season. Talk about your feelings to someone you trust, talk about your loved one to others, honor your loved one’s memory with tangible action, be honest with where you are in your grief journey, and accept help. You have to go through grief there’s no way around it but you don’t have to be alone on the trek.

Montana Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Lifeline: Call 988 or text “MT” to 741741 (available 24/7).


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