Coping Through the Holidays

Posted by: Center for Growth Therapists

Grief Therapy in Philadelphia: Coping through the holidays - survival strategies for widows and widowers   It’s already that time of the year again, holiday commercials have been running for almost one month now, radio stations are in full swing of their all holiday song marathons, and each day the city fills up with more decorations and festive lights. So why are you angry at the world and find yourself as depressed, or even more so than the day of your loved one’s death? It is normal and natural to struggle just a little bit more with your grief during the holidays.  Often, the lights, the songs, and the movies can trigger memories of when your partner was very much living and celebrating the holidays with you.  The overall message of the holiday cheer and songs tell us to be be merry and spend time with those we love, but this message can be difficult to accept when our loved one has passed away.  Then in response, feelings of anger, sadness, and emptiness may come about.  You may have a desire to bunker down in your home for the month of December and avoid family and any other holiday triggers.  As tempting as this is, most likely this will be difficult to actually carry out.  Job, family, and social commitments keep on going, even when you don’t want to. Your friends and other family members may also be grieving you partner’s death, and expect to support you and lean on you for comfort during the holiday season.  The following are eight strategies to help you make it through without your loved one this holiday season.

1) Ask for what you need. Grief Therapy in Philadelphia / Coping Through the Holidays
Advocate for yourself. Loved ones around you can’t read your mind, and therefore wont be able to help give you what you need without you telling them exactly what it is. Whether you want to talk, you want time alone, or your need more supports around you, clue people in on what you need.
For example, “Can you please accompany me to John’s grave site? I don’t want to go alone.” Or, “Are you free to talk? I’m feeling extra down today.”  “I’m sorry, I think I need to stay home and rest from all the festivities, do you think we could try this again on Tuesday?”

2) Self care. Do what you can, do what you want. Grief Therapy in Philadelpia / Coping Through the Holidays
Your emotions and your grief may be a lot to handle right now that taking on too many family events, and social activities may be pushing it for you. Limit your commitments, based on what’s best for you, and what YOU want. Explain to friends and family in advance of your plan: what you plan to do the same this year because you feel you are up to it, and you don’t think you are ready for just yet.  Your family and friends love you and the fact that you are trying is admirable and needs to be respected.

Examples include, take a day to cry and let your emotions out, even if that means having to turn down a holiday related invitation. Go to your local church, or synagogue take a minute to reflect, meditate, or pray.  Carve out 30 minutes a day for some physical activity whether it is to go for a walk or a hike with a friend, practice yoga, etc. You may have agreed to a particular event, but once the day of the event hit, you don’t find yourself in the mood to go out and be social, so listen to your mind and body, stay in. Take time before bed or after you wake up for the day to journal your experiences and feelings about your struggle, simply record memories as they enter your mind.

3a) Support System- family Grief Therapy in Philadelphia / Coping Through the Holidays
As tempting and as beneficial solitude can be, especially during your grief around the holidays, surrounding yourself with loved ones and family can be a great source of strength.  Your children, siblings, and others still need you and your love. They may grieving too, and need you with them. Make an effort to attend just a few social outings with friends or family; whether it’s a gift exchange party, a family dinner, or a tree lighting, you may just enjoy yourself for the moment. 3 months before the holidays hit start preparing.

3b) Support System- resources Grief Therapy in Philadelphia / Coping Through the Holidays
Support groups, supportive people, grief counseling are great resources for you to surround yourself with, when in need for an outlet, guidance, and overall support. While family may be able to empathize with what you are going through, professional support systems can do the same thing but from a more neutral observational standpoint.  The less of a personal role the professional supports have, the less responsibility you have to their emotions and needs, and in turn the more able you will be to focus on yourself and your needs.  Try making a “practice run” with calling or using your support system during a non-crisis, that way when an actual crisis does occur and you are in need of your supports, reaching out to them won’t seem as new, and uncomfortable.

4) Give yourself permission to enjoy your life. Grief Therapy in Philadelphia / Coping Through the Holidays
Please remember, your partner’s life has come to an end, but yours is still very much going
strong.  Go holiday shopping with friends, give back to the community with your family, sing songs, make holiday plans, if that is what you want to do.  If anything, death reminds us how fleeting special moments can be, and how precious life is.  Continue to live your life with purpose, because you still have one. Loved ones around you may struggle with seeing you living out your life, they may be confused and wonder why you are not mourning on the outside.  If this happens to you, just ask yourself the question, “What would my partner have wanted me to do?” Did you partner love celebrating the holidays? Was he/she the first to put up holiday decorations each year?  If your partner did not enjoy the holidays, what would your mother want for you during the holiday season?

5) Talk about your partner Grief Therapy in Philadelphia / Coping Through the Holidays
Looking back on fond holiday memories that included your loved one can help you remember the good times and look back on the times you had with your partner with happiness, gratitude, and an overall appreciation for the good things in life.  Your partner is gone, but his/her memory continues to live on, and you have a right to remind those around you the funny and fun times during your loved one’s life.  Even talking about what has happened, and the many emotions you are experiencing is okay to share with your family. When your family asks you the question of “what do you want for Christmas,” or “What do you want for Chanukah?” Ask for presents that memorialize your partner,  like pictures of your partner with written memorialize and stories about him/her, or ornaments that represent something your partner loved to do.  It’s a great way to address reality without pretending like death did not happen, or your loved one never existed. This is a great way for you and family to share feelings, memories, and stories. 

6) Plan ahead. Grief Therapy in Philadelphia / Coping Through the Holidays
Give yourself enough time and preparation in advance to decide what holiday traditions and events you want to go forth with this year, and those you want to skip for the year. One way to help structure your day to keep busy, but not too busy is to create a daily schedule.  With this schedule, make sure to pencil in 15 minutes to focus on just yourself. Identifying what you feel you are up to and what you aren’t will help you avoid the last minute frenzy or pressure of giving in to family and friends invitations, even when it’s the last thing you want to do!

7) Find an outlet. Grief Therapy in Philadelphia / Coping Through the Holidays
Whether it’s going for morning walks, yoga, creative writing, painting, or collecting something, find something that you do only for YOU. This opportunity for an outlet gives you a chance to clear your mind in order to focus on an activity, and allows you a chance to take pride in something you are good at, or simply enjoy.  Pick a new activity and make a three month goal to really master it.  To help you with ideas of what to, think of what your partner also wanted to accomplish whether individually or ask a couple.  Whether it’s training for a marathon, or learning a new language, or saving up for a trip to somewhere you always wanted to travel to.  Set a plan and get the ball rolling, this will help you take pride in your strengths and your abilities on a daily basis, and will give you something extra to look forward to.

8) Create a tradition that memorializes the deceased. Grief Therapy in Philadelphia / Coping Through the Holidays 
It may help to think of it less as a new tradition, but more like a rearrangement. Go to your partner’s favorite tree lighting event with the family, light a candle in the window, pray or reflect/meditate on your life with your partner, do something that memorializes your deceased loved one. Contribute or volunteer for a cause that would be mean something to your partner. 

Take the next 7 days, and each day try one of these recommended activities.  Start with strategy #6, planning ahead and schedule each activity you plan to try each day.  To help you pick the order, start with the one you think would be the most feasible to incorporate into your routine first, then each day add on the next most feasible activity. The more comfortable you become with adding on these activities and the more positive results you see, start adding on the activities that you have been purposely avoiding.  At the end of the week reflect back through journaling or meditation on how this week has been different and how the new activities have impacted your mindset and your perspective on the holidays. 
It may seem like a daunting task now,  but it is an essential aspect of grieving and growing is taking care of yourself, and prepare yourself for having tough days. The more you take care of yourself and prepare for the holidays and anticipate potential struggles, the more in control you will feel this holiday season.