For those grieving the loss of a loved one, the season proclaimed in song as “the most wonderful time of the year” is anything but wonderful. Grief strikes especially hard during the holidays — times when families traditionally gather. An empty chair at a holiday gathering leaves a bigger than life sized hole in the hearts of those who are grieving.
The Mayo Clinic shares that grief doesn’t have a specific timeline. It’s not all better in a day, week, month or year. The grief that returns on the anniversary of your loved one’s death, on birthdays, during the holidays and on other special occasions is called an anniversary reaction.
The reminders of loss are everywhere for those who are grieving. The smells, sights and sounds of life bring back reminders of the past — precious memories which can deepen the pain of loss. Your child’s favorite song, the smell of your spouse’s cologne, the sight of your parents’ photograph on the wall, the nostalgic ornaments from your childhood and your family’s favorite Christmas cookies are all vivid reminders of your missing loved one.
It’s normal when you’re grieving to go back and forth between joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, happiness and a deep, lingering, overwhelming sadness. Anger, anxiety, loneliness, pain, fatigue and trouble sleeping are also symptoms of an anniversary reaction.
When you’re deep in sorrow over the loss of a loved one, food doesn’t taste the same; joy seems a long-forgotten emotion; and even spending time with those you love can cause pain. Although some people think that deep grief only lasts days, months or maybe a year, holiday grief may continue for years after the loss of a loved one.
Facebook users are sharing this status update:
Some thoughts as we enter the holiday season…It is important to remember that not everyone is surrounded by large wonderful families. Some of us have problems during the holidays and some of us are overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us. And many people have no one to spend these times with and are besieged by loneliness. We all need caring, loving thoughts right now. If I don’t see your name I will understand. May I ask my friends, …wherever you might be, to kindly copy, paste and post this status for one hour to give a moment of support for all those who have family problems, health struggles, job issues, worries of any kind and just need to know someone cares. Do it for all of us, for nobody is immune. I hope to see this on the walls of all my friends just for moral support. I know someone will! I did it for a friend and you can too!! (You have to copy and paste this one, NO SHARING)
Grief for a departed loved one isn’t the only grief that intensifies during the holidays. On a smaller scale, the holidays are difficult for those who are estranged from a family member, those who are divorced, non-traditional families, singles, those living far from their extended family, military families, the poor, homeless and imprisoned.
Those living far from extended family often feel a sense of loss, especially if the rest of the family is together. Singles and gay and lesbian couples may feel that they don’t fit into the mold of society at the holidays — when the focus is on traditional families.
Parents who are separated or divorced and spending the holidays without their children feel a deep sense of loss. It’s difficult to be away from your children at any age during the holidays.
Those who are estranged from a family member may feel guilt and shame. Many tell nobody about their estrangement and suffer in silence. Others share their estrangement on Facebook and other social media sites.
Military families and families with a child serving in the military also feel a sense of loss during the holidays. This is often accompanied by fear for safety if the loved one is serving in a war zone.
These tips may help those who are grieving during the holidays:
Find joy where you can, even as your heart is filled with pain and sadness. It’s okay to be sad about the loss, but remember that life goes on and allow yourself to feel the happiness of moments of joy.
Allow yourself to grieve and feel sad. It’s okay to cry and to feel the depth of your loss. Some people find it helpful to allow themselves to step away from everyday life, cry and grieve deeply for short periods of time before returning to the tasks at hand.
Be prepared to feel the sense of loss at unexpected times. Knowing that anniversary reactions happen can help you be ready for the overwhelming feelings.
Surround yourself with family and friends, especially on days you know will be hard for you. Meet a dear friend for lunch, plan a family dinner, call your sibling or invite your children or grandchildren to visit for the day.
Join a grief support group and share with others who understand your pain. Whether you join a local group or an online support group, knowing you’re not alone helps.
It may be helpful to write down how you feel. Like talking to others who are grieving, writing your feelings down helps you understand your pain, face your grief and accept the finality of your loss.
The best support system for many people is their faith in God. Those who believe can turn to God in their darkest hours and take comfort from Him, knowing that their loved one is safely gone home.
Choose joy. Remember the happy times you shared with your loved one. Look at old photos, share special memories and talk about the good days. Keep a journal to write your happy memories. Sadness will creep in, but face sorrow with joy.
Some people find it helpful to begin new traditions. Instead of celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas at home, take a trip to the beach, the mountains or a resort. Sometimes new surroundings can help ease the pain of the loss.
Reach out to others, especially those in need. Helping others will fill you with a sense of purpose and joy. Find a person or place that needs you and give, give, give.
Spend time with children. Kids have a positive outlook on life and will improve your mood. You’ll find yourself laughing at the silly things they say and do.
Exercise to help your body and spirit. Spend time with nature, join a gym, begin a running program or find a walking partner. Physical exertion helps calm your mind while improving your health.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve, so do what works for you. Don’t let well-meaning friends and family members guilt trip you about your emotions. The sense of loss you feel is real.
If your grief is overwhelming, intensifies with time and doesn’t seem to improve or if you’re unable to function in your everyday life, you may be suffering from depression. Find a grief counselor or mental health provider and discuss whether you would benefit from professional help.
For several years, I’ve written about grief and the holidays. Like many others, I continue to grieve recent losses in my life including: my mother-in-law in January 2015, brothers-in-law in April 2015 and May 2011 and most of all, my beloved parents in June 2014.
Death is a part of life, the final chapter we will all face one day. May all who grieve find comfort and healing while traveling the lonely pathway of grief, especially during the holidays. Life goes on and life is good.