Do's & Don'ts
Managing Grief During the Holidays
For those who have experienced a loss, the holidays can be a painful reminder that the person is no longer with them. Traditional gatherings and family get-togethers may be extremely difficult. Many people who have endured a loss find that it takes a great amount of strength to not only get past certain days on the calendar, but also to keep up with holiday traditions and the pace of the holiday season. However, some people do in fact find comfort in planning for the holiday season, following old traditions, creating new traditions and attending holiday gatherings. The loss of a child, in particular may invoke many memories, as well as a wide range of emotional responses. The stress, sadness and despair for bereaved parents, siblings and other family members such as grandparents can feel overwhelming. Keep in mind that there is no particular right or wrong way to grieve a loved one or friend during the holidays.
What to Do
Aside from recognizing that the grief process is unique for everyone and a very individual experience, there are many things that you can do as a professional, caregiver, family member or friend to help someone through the holidays.
- Try to be available and be a good listener. Allow the bereaved individual to reminisce about their loved one or friend and to talk with you about his/her feelings.
- Be patient and understanding. Keep checking in and offering to help out with errands, go out to dinner or stop by and visit. Don't give up, it's important that the bereaved know that you are thinking of them and that you are available to support them when they feel ready. For instance, if you are a professional, you may want to send the bereaved a card to let them know you are thinking of them.
- Let the bereaved know that it is alright if they don't feel up to decorating the house, sending cards, carrying out certain traditions or hosting/attending a holiday gathering.
- Encourage the bereaved to share their loss with surviving relatives or friends. Some people may take comfort in religious traditions, rituals or a memorial service to remember their loved one.
Below you will find a variety of helpful holiday ideas that you could use yourself or pass along to someone else.
What NOT to Do
- Do NOT avoid the person who is grieving.
- Do NOT force someone to carry out past traditions or start a new tradition. Provide support or guidance. Just be available to help a person process how they want to handle the holidays.
- Do NOT pressure anyone to stop grieving or to move on for the sake of someone else. There is no way to speed up the grief process.
- Do NOT expect that your grieving friend or loved one will come to you for support. Drop by or offer to take the person out to coffee for a little break from the hectic holiday season.
- Do NOT stop talking about the person who died. People who are bereaved usually enjoy hearing the name of the deceased loved one or friend as well as stories to help keep their memory alive.
Helpful Suggestions For People Who Are Grieving
1. Shopping for gifts may be difficult. Shop online or through catalogs, give gift certificates or money. Ask someone to do your shopping for you.
2. Ask family members if they have any particular wishes regarding past holiday traditions. Decide what you would all like to do or not do. Communicate together to make the holidays special in a way that feels comfortable to everyone.
3. Plan a trip and go away for the holidays.
4. Prepare one or more of your loved one's favorite foods.
5. Make a collage about the deceased using magazines, photos, stickers, etc.
6. Create a memory journal. Write down important things you would like to remember about the person who died. Interview family members and friends to find out about their favorite memories and more information.
7. Put an electric candle in the window to symbolize the life of your loved one who died.
8. If you have a Christmas tree, buy a new ornament each year and have it engraved with the person's name.
9. Get some rest, get a manicure, facial or massage to help your body relax. Don't forget to eat and be sure to drink plenty of water.
10. Frame a picture of the deceased with a pre-cut decorated cardboard border. Encourage family and friends to decorate the border or write favorite memories of the deceased.
11. Start a new tradition or a new ritual.
12. If the deceased was buried in a cemetery add decorations to your loved one's grave.
13. Light a candle in honor of the deceased at your holiday table or perhaps near a photograph of the person to commemorate their life.
14. Encourage children to draw pictures or write a poem of a loved one or friend who has died.
15. Read age-appropriate books about grief or feelings with younger children.
16. See if children would like to put on a play or create a skit about a silly or humorous memory of the person who died.
17. Wrap a favorite keepsake of the deceased and give as a special gift to someone.
18. Make a donation to a charity or create a scholarship in the name of the person who died. If it is a child who died, buy a toy that he/she would have liked and donate it to a charity, children's hospital or shelter.
19. Arrange for a special religious service in memory of the person who died.
20. Search for a support group or special holiday program through your local grief center, hospice or funeral home to help you cope through the holidays.
Remember, everyone grieves differently and it's important to respect everyone's differences and approaches to coping. Encourage the bereaved to listen to ideas and compromise and even make new traditions. Families with young children should try to make an effort to still make the holidays exciting. Most importantly, planning together as a family for the holidays can often take the dread away and draw a family closer. It's not unusual for someone to say that the dreaded anticipation of a holiday was actually worse than the holiday itself. Sometimes the holidays just have to be endured. Decide what you are comfortable handling and share those decisions with family and friends. If you know someone who is grieving just try and offer your time and try not to be in a hurry. Although you can't take away a person's grief, you can provide valuable support that shows how much you care.