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Managing Grief Around the Holidays

Melinda Toth, LPCC
Counselor, Insight Clinical Counseling and Wellness, LLC

“The holiday season is meant to be cheerful, special, full of fun, love, family, and friends! Why are you sad? You should be happy, ‘tis the season!’”… Is this something you experience? Whether it’s your own self talk, or even unwarranted advice from others about the holidays. The perception to be ‘happy’ during the holiday season is a misconstrued one. Society has built the holidays as ‘meant to be cheerful’, but what is behind some of those happy faces that you are seeing?

Grief becomes complicated during the holiday’s, due to these are the days that are typically spent most with family and friends, along with reconnection and reconciliation. It is not always possible to have that ‘cheerful’ holiday; you are not alone, if this season you are noticing dread towards it. Grief comes in many different forms such as death of a loved one, separation, divorce, break ups, loss of a pet, financial loss, military deployment, and even physical injury/medical difficulties. Grief can be complex and typically the holidays intensify the loss.

Whether it’s the pressure to have that ideal holiday gathering, or to even be able to go to a gathering with the pressure people put on themselves to ‘have it all together.’ Typical questions that can have the potential to lead people to feel uncomfortable are: “ how have you been since ___ passed away?, It has been a year since ___died you’re still sad, but it gets easier with time?, What have you been doing to fill your time?, When are you having kids?, When are you getting married?, Do you have a partner yet?, When are you getting a job?, What do you mean your physical injury/illness prevents you from doing_____?, etc”…the list goes on and on of the questions that you may dread in anticipation of these holiday gatherings/connections. So, what is the solution to those questions you anticipate? Taking a breath before you answer and remembering you also don’t owe anyone an explanation for these questions. Okay let’s repeat that…I do not owe anyone an explanation to these questions! That is a scary, yet empowering saying. It is assertiveness and setting boundaries. A suggestion that you can form into your own words would be “thank you for your interest, however I would prefer not to answer at this time” or “ I am in a transitional period in my life.” Find the assertive language that works for you. If you want to talk about it, then talk about it! If you do not want to talk about it at that time, you do not have to talk about it.

Now, moving forward to the grief feeling and coping on your own. Let’s say you do not have a holiday gathering, or find yourself alone on the holidays, and or in those social events you feel an emptiness. Give yourself space to grieve, allow yourself to feel all the feels! That sadness, loneliness, guilt, anger, despair, anxiousness, are all common to experience. Remind yourself with the intensity of those emotions, that they are TEMPORARY. Ride the emotion just as you are to watch a wave in the ocean, it has peaks and valleys, every wave is temporary, it comes, and it goes. Most importantly be kind to yourself, especially if you are spending time alone this season. Reach out to others, and ask them to ‘just listen’ rather than give advice, or maybe even ask a friend/family to just sit with you, or distract you from the intensity of your emotions.

When grief occurs, it can be complex to process on your own. Go to a trusted family member or friend to share your thoughts and feelings. If hesitant to talk to someone, you can also write a holiday grief letter. Grief letters are directed to the loss, below is a link on some ideas of how to go about writing a grief letter. Speaking with a counselor is also another way to process your grief and that dread of the holidays. A counselor can help develop a “Holiday action plan” with you to utilize if needed. This ‘action plan’ can include coping skills, hotlines, your support, warning signs you are struggling, etc. Having an action plan in place, can help prepare you for coping with the holiday grief. As a present to YOU this holiday season, give grace to yourself.

Resources this holiday season:

Grief letter prompts/guideline: https://www.choosingtherapy.com/grief-journaling/

988 National Suicide Hotline

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline (800) 662-4357

Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741

National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-7233

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