The season is quickly approaching that is steeped in family traditions. These traditions vary from one family to the next, as do the relationships within these family units. As the time approaches, the stores are full of busy shoppers looking for bargains, trying to find the perfect gift for the people on their lists. Cooks are buying ingredients for their favorite holiday meal. Anticipation is in the air, as well as stress from some of the hurried shoppers trying to make that deadline. Holiday music is heard overhead, Santa is out front ringing his bell for the Salvation Army. Among all the excitement of the upcoming parties, gift giving, and family meals, there is an unwelcome guest - grief.
There is an empty chair at the table at many family dinners. The person who was a part of you, a part of your life, a part of your traditions, is no longer present. And his or her absence is felt deeply, painfully, quietly.
The pain of loss is individual, personal, and everyone in the family unit is affected in a different way. The first birthday, the first Easter, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas after a loss are all very difficult days. To get through these special days requires planning unlike any you have ever experienced in your life: planning how you and your family will celebrate this first holiday without your loved one. You will be developing a strategy for coping with this holiday, as well as future special events.
First of all, avoiding the holiday is not only impossible, but also unhealthy and ineffective. Isolating yourself from others will not work either. You will need to be selective of events you will be invited to by well-meaning friends who want you to “get over it” and start living again, events that may trigger a deep sadness in you because they were something you always did with the person you have lost. Decline the invitations you feel will invoke those intense feelings. You would not want to put yourself in a social situation that you could not handle, unless it is with family and close friends who understand and will support you.
Here are some other helpful tips:
1. Keep it simple. If you have always decorated, scale down the decorations or ask for help from your family or a close friend. Do the same with your traditional meal.
2. Accept help from other family members. Allow your family to do something for you. They too have suffered a loss, and they want to help you feel better.
3. Be honest with yourself and your family. Those close to you want to know if you are having a bad day. Acknowledging that pain and sharing it will actually help you feel better. You will feel “less alone.”
4. Give yourself time to be alone. It can be as simple as walking outside for a breath of fresh air. Then, it’s healthy to reconnect with others as soon as you can.
5. Try something new or different for the holiday - change locale, invite someone to
dinner who may be alone during the holiday, help someone less fortunate.
6. Honor your loved one by lighting a candle.
7. Don’t be afraid to say their name or talk about them.
8. Cherish your memories and think about the good times you had together.
9. Surround yourself with people who love you and are supportive of you. Avoid people who are negative and bring you down.
10. If you feel you just can’t handle your feelings, seek out a professional counselor to help you sort through your emotions.
Williams is the bereavement coordinator at Hospice of Scotland County. She has worked with Scotland Healthcare System for 25 years, the last 3 with Hospice. She lost her grandfather in 1989 to murder, her son, Jeremy, age 17, in 2011 to suicide and her father-in-law in 2012.