Tis The Season to Be Jolly?
It is now officially the holiday season, which means it is time to begin decorating, purchasing greeting cards and gifts, and scheduling visits with family and friends. Not to mention, it is the time of year to be jolly and grateful for our blessings. This is of course according to our cultural traditions, family expectations, and the media’s messages.
There is a lot of pressure on everyone to actively participate in celebrations and embrace the moments with joy. But, when you have lost a loved one to a death, having holiday spirit is the last thing on your mind.
Whether the death was 5 years ago or 5 days ago, memories of previous holidays with your loved one are regularly triggered and old grief commonly resurfaces. So, it’s not surprising others may be depressed during the holidays when you combine grief and the social pressures to be joyful.
Fantasies of loved ones returning, resentment of others having perceived fun, and anger that loved ones are not here are common thoughts that also complicate emotional reactions and drive isolation and avoidance.
Although everyone’s healing has a different pace, acknowledging that it is normal to feel grief during the holidays helps bring comfort and decreases feelings of shame.
A helpful way of managing intense emotions during the holiday season is being proactive and coming up with a self-care plan. This helps armor those grieving with strategies to cope with planned and unplanned holiday experiences. I use the Holiday Grief Self-Care Plan template as a guide, but you can also use a blank piece of paper with the following directions:
- Start by making a list of holiday expectations, anticipated negative possibilities, unwanted individual encounters, and uncomfortable feelings.
- Next, create a list of action plans that match these scenarios to review and practice before the holiday. For example, if one anticipates seeing their Grandfather on Thanksgiving will bring a flood of grief from reminders of losing their Grandmother, create a list of self-care strategies that will be implemented when in this moment.
- Include families to participate in the writing and reading of the list. Invite the discussion of creating new holiday traditions, experiences to mourn their loved one, and ways the family members may be of support during more vulnerable times.
- Use the list for ongoing discussion, practice of role plays, visualization, and mental rehearsing.