Coping With Grief During the Holidays
November 15, 2021 by Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh anticipatory grief, bereavement, coping with loss, death of child, death of husband, death of parent, death of wife, family loss, grief, grief counseling, grief therapy, holidays, loss counseling 0 comments
Kristen saw her reflection in the full-length mirror. She looked lovely in the beautiful dress she had purchased for her company’s holiday party. Yet, in the blink of an eye, Kristen found herself sobbing, the carefully applied make-up now smeared by her tears. She didn’t know how she was going to get through the event. All she could focus on was her beloved sister, whom she tragically lost a month earlier.
The holidays are upon us. We look forward to the festivities, gatherings, and gift-giving accompanying the celebrations. For many, however, it’s the first year a loved one will not be joining in the party or sitting in their usual seat at the dinner table. The positive emotions associated with this time of year are hard to find, and painful ones may be ever-present. So, how can we get through it or help someone we know who is struggling? Here are some important points to remember when coping with grief during the holidays:
- Recognize acute/intense grief. This period immediately follows the loss of a loved one and can be characterized by a sense of numbness or disbelief. In addition, there may be physical symptoms: problems with sleep, headache, weight change, nausea, crying; emotional symptoms: sadness, anger, irritability, anxiety, helplessness, guilt, apathy, denial; behavioral symptoms: forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, dreams of the deceased, preoccupation with death; and social symptoms: sensitive, withdrawn, hyperactive, underactive, lack of interest, low self-esteem. Understanding and conveying the intensity of what the person may be experiencing is normal and can provide support.
- Grieving takes time. After the funeral or service, often friends and extended family move on rather quickly. The one suffering the significant loss can feel as if they are lagging behind or taking an abnormal amount of time to get over the loss. Be willing to talk about memories and feelings for as long as it takes. Remind them that the grief process is unique to each person, and they are in charge of the process.
- Grieving is dynamic. As time moves on, it may seem that the person is doing better but begins to have periods of intense emotional responses. As reality sets in and the shock dissipates, more emotions may surface and be expressed more fully. Grief comes in waves and can be triggered spontaneously by a memory, smell, location, context, or another person. Grief can also be triggered during certain times of year including the holidays, the anniversary of the death, and the deceased loved one’s birthday. Offer a shoulder to lean on when those challenging moments occur.
- Limit activities if needed. No one should feel obligated or pressure another to engage in activities if they don’t feel ready to participate. Going ahead of oneself can make things worse. Instead, gently remind the person the choice is theirs, without a need for an explanation.
- Isolation. Too much isolation can be detrimental. Make an effort to take the initiative to check in or stop by to provide a connection. Sending a note or card may also convey that the person is not alone and in your thoughts.
- Remembering helps. Planning unique ways of remembering the person who is gone may be emotional but can be comforting to the person grieving. Always ask first, but perhaps consider ways to have a meaningful time together reminiscing.
The loss of someone we love is a tremendously difficult part of life; we can lovingly support one another through the process of grief until fond memories become more endearing than painful. If you or someone you know could use extra support, we offer grief counseling.