Our own Chaplain Matt Metevelis published this last year in Vegas Inc. Magazine. We thought it would be a good article to re-post so please share with anyone you think could benefit from it.
The holidays can be relentless. Starting with displays showing up in stores after Labor Day, they continue with an avalanche of reminders, swallowing up an entire month in shopping, cooking, parties and family gatherings.
While the season is joyous, it can also be a season of stress. For those coping with the loss of a loved one, this stress is compounded. Reminders of happier times, disruptions in plans, empty spaces at family tables, and the societal stress to be happy and joyful can trigger increasing and vivid pain in those dealing with loss. It is never easy to grieve, but during the holidays, grief can become overwhelming.
However, it’s important to know there is hope. Despite the pain you might be feeling, the holidays can be endured and maybe even slightly enjoyed – even if it needs to be in a different way than you have enjoyed holidays in the past. With strong self-awareness and advance forethought and planning, you can find meaningful ways to connect with the memories and legacy of your loved one. In doing so, the holidays can become less of a burden and maybe even be transformative in your grieving. Caring, planning, and remembering are the keys to get you through this difficult time.
First, it is important to remember to care for yourself first. It is okay to pass on the holidays either in their entirety or only certain traditions and events. There is overwhelming social pressure from every angle to be happy because it’s the holidays. Those dealing with grief can even be made to feel that they are “ruining” the holidays by feeling sad. This is simply not the case. No law exists forcing people to celebrate the holidays. There is not a “naughty list” for those who aren’t able to emotionally participate. One participant in our grief groups at Nathan Adelson Hospice loved to say “Maybe next year” to those family and friends urging her to do holiday-related things after she lost her partner. Not participating is always an option. The holidays will return next year and every year after.
Realistic coping with the holidays always involves a check-in with yourself and those close to you to discuss your goals and limitations during this time. Pay attention to those activities and traditions which might be hard to do without that special person there. Know what carols and movies might trigger painful memories. Gauge your energy level for time and energy-consuming activities like sending holiday cards and baking. Most of all, pay attention to what you will need for yourself in order to get through the holidays. Maybe re-watch favorite TV shows or movies that have nothing to do with the holidays. Find time to be outside or to find other non-holiday ways of relaxing. Awareness of your own limitations and needs is vital during this time.
Once you have developed this awareness, be sure to communicate your needs to the people around you who may be impacted by your decisions. If there is a holiday bash that you and your loved one attended every year that will be just too hard for you to attend, or a special dish you are expected to make, let people know.
The holidays are stressful for others too. The sooner you let them know what you are coping with and feeling, the less ambushed they will feel by your decisions.
Planning is another key to surviving the holidays. Think about what you will be doing during the holidays as far ahead as possible. Will you shop online to avoid the holiday music and displays at stores and malls? Will you send holiday cards this year or at least not send the annual holiday letter? Which invitations to holiday events will you accept? Which will you decline? Is there someone you can take to that holiday party who can support you or cover for you if your grief gets too intense that you have to leave? Where will you spend the holiday? Who will you spend it with?
The more you can figure out the answers to these and similar questions, the more smoothly your holiday season will go. Be sure to communicate them with the people who will be impacted by them. Have a back-up plan or resolve to be okay if these plans are disrupted by either your grief or the chaotic nature of the holiday season.
The final key for surviving the holidays can be the most powerful and transformative one. Remember your loved ones during the holiday. Light a candle. Make a gift in their name to a favorite charity. Find people to share your memories with. Keep their place set at the family table. Pour them a glass of wine or eggnog. Beyond the wild consumerism and social activity of the holidays, look to hope – hope in a new beginning, hope in lights that do not go out, hope in the enduring and eternal nature of family bonds and love. This hope can be relentless too. May it strengthen and guide you as you work your way through the holidays and each of the days beyond.
- Chaplain Matt Metevelis