By Mary McKenzie, Hospice grief counselor
As the holidays surround us, the absence of a loved one continues to remind us that it is not going to be the same this year. Even though it has been in the back of our minds; it really was so far away, and now it is here. Holiday grief contains elements of dread.
It is a time of mental worry and rehearsal of what the season may bring. This overwhelming fear of what to expect also contains a heightened sensitivity of the past, which can push emotions to the forefront. This may be especially difficult when social contacts, and even family, think that “you should be over it by now.”
It is a season of uncertainty and loneliness, especially for the elderly grieving accumulated loss of friends and family. Major changes, such as a move from the farm to town, failing health, and not being able to drive anymore, only contribute to emotional pain.
Young families suffer enormous strain, as the surviving spouse struggles with his/her grief, while feeling pressure to plan the holiday for the children. Many consider it their responsibility to make it “like it used to be”; however this is impossible and unrealistic, as the absence of the loved one will always have this season forever changed.
The holidays have the tendency to make everyone relive childhood feelings surrounding memories and traditions. Life without the deceased can often return a person to earlier stages of the grief process.
Customs can be re-vamped to be more appropriate to the loss. The most important idea is to have a plan of what small changes may be possible to help decrease stress, while still honoring the holiday and the deceased.
Ways to Help
1. Have a plan of what you want.
2. Consider how much energy it will take to put this plan in place. Grieving is exhausting. Think of energy reserves as compared to a bank. Draw out the smallest amount to accomplish the plan. Choose to do only what you can handle.
3. Flexibility for ongoing change is important. Think of changing traditions in small steps. Consider a meal Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. Perhaps going to a restaurant or relatives’ home would be very different from previous years. Go with the flow.
4. Streamline preparation by letting others help in cooking and decorating. Use the deli or let others bring food. Shop early and use mail order or gift cards.
Finally, remember the deceased and the spirit of the holiday by using ritual.
5. Ritual can be a very powerful method for honoring and remembering a loved one. A toast to them at dinner or including their name in prayers can help a family continue to keep an emotional connection. Writing Christmas cards and placing them on the tree or at the grave is especially meaningful. Placing holly or greens around their picture can show honor. Some may choose to give to an Angel Tree or charity in their memory.
While holidays are difficult, it is an especially good time to teach younger generations about the deceased. This is a wonderful learning experience for sharing about the life and personality of the person and can begin to help prepare children for all seasons of life.
Hospice of the Bluegrass has grief counseling available to all children and adults in our community even if their loved one was not a Hospice patient. There is no charge. Please call Hospice of the Bluegrass at 859-234-6462 to ask about grief counseling.