Got Grief in the New Year?
Eight coping tips for dealing with grief during the new year.
Posted Jan 03, 2019
At some point in our lives, we will very likely experience the loss of a loved one. We may think that age has something to do with death, and in a perfect world, our grandparents and then parents would die before us. But life isn’t orderly, and sometimes a spouse, child, sibling, or dear friend will die before what the above logic would dictate is “her time.”
Grief is universal in both the human and animal kingdoms. It can disguise itself as major depression with frequent crying, feelings of sadness, sleep difficulties, and loss of appetite, as well as flairs of anger and denial. These are all natural symptoms of grief (the process of reacting to the loss), bereavement (the period after the loss when grief is experienced and mourning occurs), and mourning (the process of adapting to the loss), which can include bouts of anxiety. Like life, grief isn’t particularly logical. We all experience it differently. And during special occasions such as the holidays and the new year, which for many means the start of a new cycle, grieving can be especially difficult since it is the end of the life cycle for the deceased—and the beginning of a new one for those who remain.
Through our research on the subject, as well as our own experiences, we’ve come up with some coping strategies that have helped us through our times of grief in the new year, and we'd like to share them with you.
Allow Yourself to Feel
It’s important not to squelch feelings of grief, like sadness. And it’s equally important to allow yourself to feel positive emotions like joy. Each family member will grieve in his own way and will likely have different needs, especially during anniversaries, birthdays, and other special occasions. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. But remember: Experiencing laughter and joyful feelings is a good thing and doesn’t mean your loved one is forgotten.
Set Realistic Goals
Life is different now, so take time to reflect on whether or not you can or want to handle previous responsibilities. If others offer help, consider taking them up on it. If the thought of being in crowded stores or malls is too much, try shopping on the internet or by phone. In time, you may decide to return to your previous activities, but for now, you don’t have to do everything the same old way, and people don’t expect you to.
Take Care of Yourself
When we grieve, it’s easy to forget about our physical well-being. We may also discover that we’re relying on substances such as alcohol to self-medicate. Be aware of your body and how you’re coping with your grief. Physical exercise can be a good antidote for depression. And keeping a journal can be a way to channel grief. Also, treating yourself to something you normally wouldn’t indulge in can lift your spirits.
Honesty is truly the best policy—with yourself and others—when you’re grieving. With the new year looming, you may not feel like participating in the festivities you enjoyed in the past. So, be honest if you don’t feel up to attending events, even if you have told people you’ll be there and then decide not to go. Or, if you just want to make an appearance and leave after a bit—that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up if you feel this way for a while. When you’re ready, you’ll know. And from this point forward, it’s fine to be selective in what you choose to do, or put off, or decline.
Establish New Traditions
For some, old traditions bring comfort and a sense of joy during times of grief, while for others, these may be too painful to bear. A family discussion about what traditions or activities you’d like to keep or change can make the coming year easier. And maybe this year you can create new traditions in memory of your loved one. Some people light a candle, make the loved one’s favorite meal or dessert, leave an empty chair for her, or go around the table and say a few words about him.
Here are a few more examples of new traditions or rituals of remembrance:
- Make a quilt using the deceased's favorite colors or clothing or things that remind you of her. Note: a seamstress friend made quilts from Rose's husband Rick's shirts and slacks after he died, and they were given to their children.
- Place a flower arrangement on the table in memory of your loved one.
- On special occasions, have a moment of silence, make a toast, or read something you’ve written about the person who passed away.
- Prepare your deceased loved one’s favorite foods and play his favorite music on his birthday.
- Make a memory box with photos, letters, and other items that were special to your loved one.
Change Things Up
Treat yourself to a dinner out or a movie. Take a trip—even just a day trip—with family or friends. Buy yourself something you normally wouldn’t. Do things you’ve wanted to do but haven’t had the opportunity or time.
Focus on Others
Grieving causes us to focus inwardly, which can deepen depression. Conversely, focusing on others can lift our spirits. This year, especially during the holidays, consider volunteering for a charitable organization, making a donation in memory of the person who passed away or adopting a needy family.
Reduce Your Isolation
While we encourage you to be selective in the activities you choose to participate in this new year and allow yourself time to grieve privately, it’s also important to balance solitude with shared activities. Be sure to make plans with people who love and support you. When you're with family and friends, it can be healing to share memories of your loved one.
Remember: Time Heals
Although those who haven’t experienced grief for a loved one may say unintentionally hurtful things like, “It’s been (fill-in-the-blank amount of time). Aren’t you over it?” there is no set length of time for the grieving process. It takes as long as it takes; if the bond that was broken was deep and strong, grief may last a lifetime. One thing we can assure you of, however, is that with time, grief changes. It softens. But for now, the most important things to remember this new year are to go easy on yourself, plan ahead, accept support from those you’re close to, and do something special for you.
King, Barbara J. “When Animals Mourn: Seeing That Grief Is Not Uniquely Human”, NPR, Inc, April 11, 2013
"Bereavement and Grief", The Fisher Center for Alzheimer Research and Center
"Coping with Grief and Loss", Harvard Mental Health Letter
Miller, James, How Will I Get Through the Holidays?, Willowgreen Publishing, 1996.