1. I need to be proactive and plan ahead: Studies show that those who experience the most difficulty with the holidays are those who have given little thought to the challenges they will encounter. During the planning, you may experience some emotional pain. As much as it hurts, it is helpful to you. When the holiday actually arrives, it is likely to be much less painful than you anticipated.
2. It is impossible to escape the holidays: Like aliens in a horror movie, it is everywhere and in every country. “Escaping” as a coping mechanism simply does not work – reminders of the holidays will always appear. We can mentally ignore the holidays by pretending that they don’t exist but it takes tremendous emotional energy to deny all of the input we see around us.
3. Holidays can’t be what they once were: Don’t try to keep everything as it was. If you try, you will be very disappointed. Sometimes doing things just a little bit differently can acknowledge the change – even while preserving continuity with the past. Different menus, decorations, or attending a different service may provide that slight but significant shift.
4. My holiday plans will affect other family members: Talk your plans over with your family and listen to their needs and choices. Express your feelings and needs honestly and compromise by allowing everyone to participate in ways they find comfortable - without feeling guilty about those choices.
5. There is no “right way” to celebrate the holidays –nothing is written in stone: Should you accept or decline invitations? What about cooking and baking? Should the house be decorated? What would be best for the children? What about holiday traditions, forget them for this year, try them, or develop new ones? Should a visit be made to the cemetery that day? Leave the word “ought” out of the holiday this season. Decide what is important to you this season and scratch the rest off the list. It is OK to say, “no”.
6. Change and growth go hand in hand – nothing is written in stone: Give yourself permission to change traditions and rituals if you want. The option to return to the old traditions will always be there next year and the year after. Consider changing the time, location, and/or menu of traditional meals. Attend religious services at a different time or at a different house of worship – or don’t go at all. Decorate differently if you want – or don’t decorate at all. Have a Christmas picnic on the beach or have your family serve breakfast to people at a homeless shelter.
7. I need to take care of myself physically: A grieving body is more susceptible to illness and needs proper nourishment and rest. Eat well and wisely. Break large tasks into small pieces and delegate chores to others. Take naps when needed. Allow yourself to cry – don’t deny yourself the physical gift of healing tears. Try exercise; whatever your exercise of choice, it will do good for your spirit and your body, it’s a wonderful stress-reducer. Don’t overdo the eggnog – alcohol is an antidote to nothing and can cause depression. Avoid excessive sweets – they can precipitate mood swings.
8. I need to take care of myself emotionally: “It’s okay to feel sad”. Even people who have not had a major loss feel the pressures, depression, and fatigue that come with the holidays. Accept ahead of time that there will be times when you are going to feel sad and depressed and make sure to bring along extra tissues.
“It’s okay to feel good”.Give yourself permission to feel good, to laugh, and even to have fun. Sometimes people feel guilty if they find themselves enjoying an activity. Feeling good and laughing is your body’s way of letting you relax and regain some strength for a few moments during your grief. Remember, you are in no way being disrespectful to the memory of the deceased.
9. I need to take care of myself socially: Let friends and families know what you can handle comfortably. If possible choose the right people to be with – i.e., those with whom you feel comfortable sharing your feelings. Consider doing something special for someone else. Think in advance about replies to the daunting questions such as “How are you doing?” Although probably asked by well-intentioned people, it can be frustrating or awkward to answer. A truthful answer might be, “Sometimes OK, and sometimes not too good.”
Find someone you can talk to – do not allow yourself to become isolated:
- The hospice bereavement counselor
- Spiritual leader (priest, pastor, rabbi)
10. I need to take care of myself spiritually: Take time for prayer, meditation, and reflection – especially in the middle of a challenge or at the beginning and the end of each day. Spiritual time can renew as well as help to put things in perspective. Write in a journal daily during the season. This could become a forum for your feelings. Cultivate gratitude. You may find consolation in attending religious services, and reading Holy Scriptures. Keep in mind that painful loses can “shake up” religious beliefs. The questioning of faith is a normal expression of loss and is consistent with later spiritual growth. So, ask God, the tough questions.
Grief is a natural part of life when someone we love dies. Finding your way through the changes and often painful emotions that arise during the days, weeks and months that follow a death can be difficult. You don’t have to do it alone. Hospice of Santa Cruz County has helped thousands of people through their grief journey. If you'd like information on our services available to help through our Grief Support Program, please call (831) 430-3000 or visit our website at www.hospicesantacruz.org/patients-family-community/grief-support-services.