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Old 11-11-2004, 12:55 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Getting Through the Holidays


Getting Through the Holidays

One of the toughest times to weather is the holiday season, especially the first one after the loss of a loved one. At this time, when you are surrounded by those people most important to you, it becomes painfully clear that someone is missing. This is a very pivotal point in the healing process. Not only will your course of action allow you to get through the holidays, but it will affect the way you experience holidays for years to come. First, let me give you some examples (from experience, unfortunately) of different approaches to this difficult holiday period. When the loss is within your family, you may find yourself at the mercy of your family system. Let me explain. If you come from a very loving, open and expressive family, chances are they will deal with the loss in the same manner. If however, you come from a family that is not comfortable expressing feelings directly, you may expect that they will stick to this approach under these most stressful circumstances. And, because grief brings such extremely intense emotions, their reactions will probably be far more extreme than unual. This can make it very difficult to move through the holidays without bad feelings toward the people around you as well as the dreaded holidays themselves.

Let us first look at an example of the latter family. We'll call them the Denial family. Everyone is showing up for the holiday celebration with their best face on. They are going to pretend that nothing has changed. It is important for them to do this, because not doing so would be much too painful. They are not used to expressing painful emotions, so they prefer to avoid them. But let me remind you, the emotions associated with grief are so strong that they will find a way to get out, one way or another. For instance, one family member is bickering endlessly at another. This is creating tension for everyone. Then there is the person who withdraws, so depressed from the energy required to hold everything in. And, let us not forget to mention the one who "drowns" their feelings with the holiday eggnog or other assorted spirits which are abundant at many holiday gatherings. Now we have a terrible mix of suppressed anger and sadness coming out every which way. People end up hurt, angry at each other, and possibly resolved never to attend another family holiday event. Let me point out, if you haven't already guessed, this is a very destructive way to deal with grief during the holiday season.

Now let us look at the former mentioned family. We'll call them the Healthy family. Everyone shows up with their best face on, some better than others, but most importantly, they are choosing to spend this time together. Instead of pretending that nothing has changed, they will, at some point, acknowledge the missing person. They may talk about something that person did last year, or many years ago, and family members will laugh, and perhaps even cry. But, they will not try to forget the lost loved one. They cannot forget them. Relieving themselves of the most painful emotions will make room for the fond memories that are within them. And, in beginning to do so this holiday, it will make their next holiday less painful and, eventually, their holidays to come more enjoyable. These are, of course, two opposite ends of the spectrum. Chances are that many families are somewhere in-between. This is where your individual choice about how you will approach the holidays is very important. You will need to know that you can grieve in a positive way, no matter what those around you choose to do. Here are some of my suggestions for taking care of yourself through this challenging time:

* Make sure you have a good support system outside of your family that you can discuss your feelings with. For me, it's my girlfriends. We have been known to call one another on the phone while visiting family just to get a reality check and some much needed support.

* If other family members are not open to acknowledging your missing loved one, it's probably not wise to force them. Again, this will set up the previously mentioned "acting out" of the painful emotions, only you will now be the target. Allow yourself to distance a little from their drama, and again, call a friend if you need a break.

* If you are a church member, having your loved one's name mentioned or a special prayer spoken during church services can be very comforting. It also brings your grief out in the open and allows you to get extra support.

* What if the loss occurs during the holidays? I had a friend who's father died right before Christmas. There were presents for him under the tree. Her mother put his presents into a drawer to deal with later. They sat there for a long time as a painful reminder of a devastating holiday. One solution would be to donate the gifts, perhaps to a local shelter.

* Try to avoid using alcohol to "get you into the spirit." This will only numb you out, and then bring you down. Look around at others. If Aunt Mary is dancing around with a lampshade on her head now, she will probably be sobbing in her turkey dinner later. Remember, "what goes up, must come down."

Some people find it helpful to create some kind of ritual in honor of the missing loved one. Lighting a special candle on the holiday can be comforting, perhaps even a photograph beside the candle to personalize it. Also, wearing an article of their clothing, or a perfume that smells like them can be comforting. When my mother died, I found a housedress of hers that I had seen her wear a thousand times. I wore it sometimes, and it made me think good thoughts of her. For me, I found that writing a letter to my loved ones helped me to express my feelings and ease my grief. I can?t recommend this enough! It is a very good way to get closure and help you to move on. The following is an example of this type of letter:

Dear Dad:

I really miss you right now. I know the holidays won?t be the same without you here to get everybody singing and laughing. You were always so good at that. I wish you could be here a little longer. I never got a chance to tell you how much I appreciated everything you've done for me. But while you were here, it was so hard to talk to you. Sometimes I felt like you couldn't let me in. But I do know you loved me, and you knew that I loved you. And I'm sorry you won't get to know your grandchildren. They would have enjoyed spending time with you. I hope you're in a better place, and all of your pain is gone. I love you very much and will always remember you.

When Children are Involved

This is a very important topic that deserves more than just a mention, but I will include a few suggestions. First, don't pretend that everything is the same as it was. Feelings will come up for them, and they will need you to validate those feelings. For example, "I know you miss Daddy. I do too." Give them lots of love and reassurance. They need to feel safe.

Children may act out their feelings in ways that adults think are inappropriate. For instance, they may be expressing anger or sadness in one moment, and then they begin sorting all of their toys or clothes by color the next moment. Don?t worry. This is how they process. I recommend getting the assistance of a child psychologist who?s well equipped to use play therapy. This could be extremely helpful, as children process their emotions through play.

Anniversary Dates & Birthdays

If the holidays weren't enough, we have many other annual reminders of our missing loved ones. The date of their birth, the date of their death and any other important dates and anniversaries can be very tough to get through. Sometimes, we are not even conscious of these dates and how they are affecting us. For instance, my mother died on April 13th. The first anniversary of her death was painful, as expected. What I didn't realize until four or five years later, was that every April I would have a very bad month. I was not consciously thinking about the date, but I was subconsciously aware that it was supposed to be a bad time. Therefore, it was. Unfortunately, after I got over this little sabotage of mine, my brother was killed in a car accident on April 17th. I have given up on the redemption of the month of April, but I have learned to respect it. I now call my surviving loved ones during that week, and it keeps me close to them. It's the best I can do.

You can decide what works for you individually to get through these dates. Again, a special ritual may help: lighting a candle, writing a letter, or even saying a prayer. Or perhaps calling someone you are close to and making a connection. All of these actions will help you in your grief. Resources

A number of good books are available to help you with your grief process. Sometimes friends or members of your church can recommend the right ones for you. Here are a few of my own suggestions:

"How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies" by Dr. Therese Rando

"When You've Become a Widow; A Compassionate Guide to Rebuilding Your Life" by Genevieve Davis Ginsburg, MS (A very good book. It may be difficult to find, but she has a newer book called "Widow to Widow; Lifeskill Guide for Women").

"Mourning and Mitzvah; a Guided Journal For Walking the Mourner's Path Through Grief to Healing" by Anne Brener

For helping children through their grief process:

"Lifetimes; a Beautiful Way of Explaining Death to Children" by Brian Mellonie This book explains how everything; plants, animals, insects and people; has a beginning and an end. I highly recommend this book.

"I Miss You, Mr. Hooper", a Sesame Street book which helps children understand and acknowledge the permanence of loss and the sad feelings associated with it.
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Old 11-11-2004, 12:57 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Virginia A. Simpson, Ph.D.

Holidays are a difficult time for families after the death of a loved one, especially when the death has been within the last year. While other people and families are looking forward to the holidays with happy anticipation, those of us who know someone will be missing look forward to the holidays with apprehension.

Following are some suggestions to help you through the holidays. I will not promise you no pain, but, perhaps, some of these thoughts will help to make you feel less alone and better able to face the day.

Cry. Give yourself permission to cry. Tears are nature's way of helping us heal. They are not a sign of weakness or "falling apart." I think that when we "fall apart," we are, in reality, beginning to "fall together" again and have started on the path of healing and growth.

Needs. Let others know what you need. You don't have to do anything or go anywhere or be anything that forces you to pretend you are feeling better than you do. Some people will understand and some won't. Cherish those who do understand and forgive those who can't because they just don't know better.

Plan. Talk to your family and decide what you will do and what the day will look like. Will you have the usual dinner? Will you go out instead? Who will take care of what tasks?

Remember. Allow time to remember the person who is gone. Plan a memorial. Light a special candle, plant a tree, share memories. Create your own special way to remember the person you love.

Give. Consider purchasing a gift that you would have given to the person who has died, and give it to a charity. The best tribute to your loved one is to share the love you would have given them with someone else. This is one important way in which you can give that person�s life meaning.

Nurture yourself. Rest and eat balanced meals. Avoid sugar and alcohol because they tend to exacerbate emotions by throwing our body chemistry off balance. You may want to take a walk in nature, ride your bike, participate in a sport you enjoy, allow yourself extra time in bed, take a long leisurely bath or shower -- do whatever you find healing.

I want to remind you to be very gentle with yourself and with your family. The holidays may be anticipated with dread, but if planned and time allowed for the grief and sharing of memories, you might find some of your tears turning into joy and laughter.
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Old 11-11-2004, 01:00 PM   #3 (permalink)
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by Susan Litton

Holidays bring the loss of a loved one into sharper focus. Our traditions, rituals, and even our special holiday foods are constant reminders of our loss. Nothing can replace our loved one, but there are things that can make the holidays easier. Use these tips and/or allow your own creativity and understanding of yourself and your situation to come up with some ideas that fit you. The holidays can be different this year; they don't have to be bad.

1) Probably the most important factor for a successful holiday season is to pay attention to yourself and your needs and feelings. What will help you feel better over the next few weeks? The holidays often pull us to do things for others - we feel it's "expected." If giving to others helps you feel better this holiday season, then do it. If it feels like a burden, you might consider using this particular holiday to give to yourself instead. Buy yourself something you've always wanted; give yourself the gift of NOT sending holiday cards, cooking, going to Aunt Mary's, buying presents, etc. Giving is giving - no matter who the recipient is.

2) Allow yourself time to remember your loved one and also time to be distracted from the memories. There's a time for each in the grieving process and this is especially important to remember during the holiday season.

3) Think creatively when coming up with this year's holiday plans! Instead of doing what you've always done, you may decide you'd rather spend some time: volunteering in your community's soup kitchen; taking a walk through the woods; curling up with a good book and your favorite lap cat/dog; watching movies; tackling that project you've been wanting to do but haven't had time for; or doing anything else your heart can dream about.

After a loss, some people are more comforted by keeping things as close to normal as possible, while others prefer to get away from painful memories by doing something completely different. Find the mixture and balance that's just right for you.

4) Reach out for help when you need it. Do you need someone to talk to? A shoulder to cry on? Someone to help with something your loved one always did with/for you? Someone to help with chores and errands? Someone to be creatively "wild" with you on a totally new and different holiday plan? Don't be afraid to ask.

5) Consider adopting a pet.

6) Make sure you get enough rest. The holidays are stressful and facing them without a loved one magnifies the stress. Give your body the rest it needs and try to eat healthily, and exercise if you can. A healthy, well-rested body will make it easier to deal with the stress.

7) Consider connecting with someone different this year - your best friend from high school or college that you haven't seen or talked to in years - a friend who's been reaching out to you but whom you usually put off - a relative you enjoy but hardly ever see.

8) Allow yourself the option of changing your mind, even at the last minute. One of the things that's most true of the grieving process is that it IS a process; its moods change from day to day, even from hour to hour. Don't be afraid to cancel plans you've already made during the holidays and/or to make new ones on the spur of the moment. Most things don't really have to be rigid.

9) And finally, be gentle with yourself. Don't expect your holiday plans to be "perfect." Be accepting of the moods you find yourself experiencing: projects or events you decide you do or don't want to do; things that don't turn out the way you had hoped or planned. Realizing that the holidays are "for giving" and for "forgiving" yourself for perceived shortcomings is a wonderful place to begin.

Peace to all during this holiday season.
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Old 11-26-2007, 09:26 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Thank you from the bottom of my heart. So validating and helpful!
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Old 09-21-2008, 11:24 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Unhappy getting throw the holidays are bad

My son passaway nine years ago lost my best friend 2005 it is hard on the holidays last year i ws alone for thnksgiving i dont know what this yer will bring god bless you all:ghug
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Old 11-07-2012, 03:37 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by mary77 View Post
My son passaway nine years ago lost my best friend 2005 it is hard on the holidays last year i ws alone for thnksgiving i dont know what this yer will bring god bless you all:ghug
Hi Mary,

Your post touched me so, since the Holidays are the worst for a lot of people Alcoholics in recovery as well as those non-alcoholics who have lost someone they have loved very much.

Know you are not alone. Oh if we could all get together and celebrate the Holidays as one big Dysfunctional Family, at least we would have company, LOL!

I lost my mother 4 years ago and she had been very sick for 3 years, so I actually lost a little bit of her everyday for 3 years. As the song says "I am everything I am because she LOVED me"

Halloween is the last holiday I celebrate by volunteering at a Nature Center and being a part of their Halloween Event. It has always been my favorite Holiday--weird huh?

You know Mary, even when you have many people around you for the Holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years) when you life is void of some one you loved profounfly, you are really still alone--just with a lot of people around your loneliness.

I have found that from Thanksgiving through New years I am blessed to be able to spend those weeks just with MY MOM. Everyday I talk to her in my journal, we remember all of the good times we had together from the time I can remember. Sometimes I write the same memories over each year. Somehow it allows me a very special private time with her. I cry, I laugh, I sing weird songs and I joke with her. She really gets it, I feel her presence and her strength keeps me sober. I have a wonderful husband who understands my weirdness, and more importantly respects that private time.

I know a lot of people who get through the Holidays by helping others enjoy theirs. There are plenty of volunteers needed for Food Banks, serving Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, and visiting the elderly. It may help devoting time to others as a way to honor your son and your dear friend.

You are important Mary, and know they are with you in spirit and when you feel a certain "something" you know they are watching over you....so you are really NEVER alone.

Seek out this forum or other support throughout the upcoming months, you will see you have many friends who know exactly what you are going through.

May you find Peace in your heart and soul
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Old 11-07-2012, 04:19 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Hi Trix, Mary only submitted 8 posts and that was 4 years ago but don't worry about it I used to post on old posts all the time and sometimes still do, and who knows Mary may still be reading the forums so she may get your message. I found your post very touching and I think writing to your mum in your journal is a great way to keep her alive in your heart.
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Old 11-08-2012, 11:46 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Hi Trix, Mary only submitted 8 posts and that was 4 years ago but don't worry about it I used to post on old posts all the time and sometimes still do, and who knows Mary may still be reading the forums so she may get your message. I found your post very touching and I think writing to your mum in your journal is a great way to keep her alive in your heart.
Thanks Zanzibar,

What an idiot--I am going to have to look at dates on this forum. Most forums I have experience with are all on current events. You saved me a lot of time writing to (who knows) dead people.

At least you appreciated the gesture, thanks again.
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