A very good friend of mine unexpectedly lost her husband two weeks ago. She thought he was going in for minor surgery and he never returned. If you’re like most people, you flinch when you hear that tragedy hit a family around the holidays because while the pain is still there regardless of the day, time or year, it’s harder to face a season of joy and celebration when it can seem like you’re the only one not looking forward to it. It can be just as hard for your friends and acquaintances because from a very early age we want to fix things and “make them better” and of course we can’t. Here are a few tips for coping:
Expect that songs, rituals, and foods will bring grief back to the surface. Our memories can be powerful things. Even in the best of times, our senses activate responses from our brains that can take us immediately to some other time or place. We celebrate just such a thing when it helps us to reach someone who seems unreachable but they can be hard too. If this is your first holiday season without a loved one, recognize that you’ll feel sad and find at least some of the experience painful. People deal with pain in different ways. Some people prefer to hide away and lick their wounds and some people need the hustle and bustle of lots of people to keep the ghosts away. Depending upon how you handle sadness, you may want to tone down your holiday celebrations this year or you may want to up your ante. Having two plans, one for each option will provide some relief if you suddenly decide that one or the other is too much.
Give yourself time. Don’t expect that any loss you suffered comes with a time limit. I’ve met people who on the surface at least, bounced back within days. I’ve met others that struggle with their loss. Instead of pretending that things are normal for you, allow yourself to recognize the validity of your pain.
Ask for help if you need it. If you can’t face putting the tree up or aren’t up to fixing a meal for the entire family, make it clear that you need help. Sometimes people think things are just fine with the grieving person, never realizing how hard they are finding it.
There are plenty of resources on the web for people who are grieving. Many hospitals and senior centers offer help especially around the holidays. While those resources won’t remove the grief, they can make it more bearable until you develop the strength to do it on your own.