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When the Holidays Hurt: Coping with Grief in the Season of Celebration

December 11, 2015
Authored by By Suzon Warner, LPN

Holidays are usually a time for family gatherings and special occasions. However when someone you love has died, everything becomes different. How do you celebrate when your loved one is no longer a part of this special time? What does the holiday mean to you now? How will we celebrate as a family?

I run a series of bereavement support groups, including one tailored specifically for coping with the holiday season. It was at one of these meetings a few years ago that one of the participants posed just these questions. Her husband had died and she was facing the first holiday without him. She and others in the group came up with some ways to make the day (and it’s only one day) easier for them. For those of you out there who are grieving now, I’ll share them with you:

  • Make the holiday feel different on purpose. Go out to eat, or have a brunch instead of dinner. Go to someone else’s home to change the entire atmosphere. 
  • Or, keep everything the same in order to savor the memories. Some of the group participants said they wanted to keep the same traditions because they couldn’t bear to change anything. One woman said she would still set a plate for her brother who had died as a way to honor him. 
  • Skip the holiday completely. Still others in the group said they would simply “skip” the holidays. One family went to the Bahamas for the holiday week. Another family volunteered at a soup kitchen; this was very meaningful to the family and it became a new tradition for them. 

If you are grieving this holiday season, the important thing is to make sure you do whatever feels right to you. Communicate with family members who may be struggling with what to do too. Be easy on yourself. Reach out to a friend, to clergy, to nature. Have a good cry. Take a walk, read a book, breathe deep. 

Many people find it helpful to join a bereavement support group. Here you may find that being in the presence of others who are grieving may help you feel less alone. A free holiday bereavement support group will begin at Day Kimball Hospital on December 9 – just call (860) 928-0422 ext. 2042 to register. Whatever you choose, may peace and comfort find you this holiday season.

Suzon Warner is LPN/Bereavement Coordinator for Day Kimball Healthcare’s Hospice & Palliative Care of Northeastern Connecticut.

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