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What Do the Holidays Mean to You?

The holidays may have very different meaning when we are grieving.

It is often a truism that the holidays are tough times for us when we are grieving. For many, that is so true. It is difficult to face the holidays when someone we love is no longer there to celebrate with us. After all, holidays are times we spend with family and friends. When one of those family or friends are missing, it can be keenly felt. Holidays too are full of memories—times when we reflect back, remembering past holidays. We recall the time Dad struggled to assemble the dollhouse or the taste of Mom’s holiday cookies. Movies and television emphasize reunions with loved ones. When the death happened within the first year, we still may cards addressed to the deceased individual. In short, the presence of the person we loved absence is sorely missed. Finally, grief is stressful as are the holidays. The combination of grief and the holidays can create overwhelming stress.

Yet the very fact that grief is highly individual means that others may experience the holidays differently. For Monica, the holidays were a diversion. The constant activity provided respite from her grief. Shopping, going to events such as Christmas concerts filled a void. Monica worries were very different—she feared that she might emotionally crash once the holidays ended.

Children especially will look forward to the holidays. Why shouldn’t they? After all, the holidays not only offer respite from their grief but gifts and parties as well. They certainly will not want to see the holidays “cancelled” or diminished.

Perhaps as we navigate the holidays, we can remember 3 “D’s.” The first “D” is difference. We need to remember that in a family, we are different people, with different experiences, grieving different relationships, with different ways of coping with loss. What these differences do not mean is that we loved the deceased person any less. The second “D” is discuss. We need to respectfully discuss with other family members our desires and needs about the holidays. Once we discuss, we can decide—the third “D.” Here it is important to find compromises rather than an “all or nothing.” We may not have to place our traditional big tree in a central room of the house. Instead, we may decide to put it in a side room – a room that people can choose to go to –or not. If we are simply not up to shopping, we may order gifts by phone, catalog, or online. We may choose not to send cards this year—or perhaps send just a few.

Perhaps, there is even a 4th “D” – de-stress. Remember because the holidays are stressful, self-care is essential. Taking care of ourselves become critical especially in a season where over-eating and over-drinking can easily occur. Nutrition, moderation, rest, and regular exercise are perhaps more important now than ever before. Do other things that manage stress whether it is walking in the wood, watching TV, listening to music, or getting a massage.

And never lose sight of hope. The first year, perhaps the second, may be very tough. And even in the years following, we may have moments of grief – a normal part of grief’s journey. Yet, most find a renewed—if different joy—in the holidays.