Advice for managing grief, loss during the holidays

During the holidays, you may turn on the radio and hear the refrain, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” But those experiencing grief and loss might feel like replacing the word “wonderful” with “difficult.”

Grief has different effects at different times of the year and is often most powerful during the holiday season. Many people celebrate holidays with family and friends but for those who have lost a loved one, their absence may be keenly felt. Whether you have lost a loved one or know someone who has, use these tips to help navigate the season.

l Be kind to yourself. Often, we readily offer kindness to others but are harsh critics when it comes to ourselves. Take time to honor your feelings and listen to what your body is telling you it needs. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK not to do all the things you used to do. Being kind means to love yourself — to recognize that your heart has been broken and needs time to heal.

l Be kind to those who are grieving. Don’t push them to do something they don’t want to do — stay away from the guilt treatment. Recognize that they are hurting and think about how you can love them, rather than forcing them to be something they aren’t right now. Remember that they may not want to do the same things they’ve always done, so be flexible.

l Think about your loved one. It’s OK to talk about and remember them. If a friend is grieving, it’s okay to mention their loved one too. It can be more upsetting for a grieving person to feel their loved one is forgotten.

l Honor your loved one during the holiday season. Make a donation in your loved one’s name to an organization they supported. Do something different in honor of your loved ones, perhaps by doing something they would have loved to do. Bring a candle with you to family gatherings or buy a poinsettia in their honor.

l Consult a health care professional if you have symptoms of depression or aren’t coping well. Community resources, funeral homes and faith communities offer grief and loss counseling and support groups.

Many people who lose a loved one may approach the holiday season with a sense of trepidation, knowing that things have changed. Grief is an emotional pain that needs the same amount of care as physical pain — rest, time, love, accommodations, space, medicines, resources, friendship and work.

The greatest gift you can give to someone who is grieving is time and your presence. Listen to their stories, memories and the little things. Put phones away and enjoy time together. The power of your presence might be surprising.

• Robin Colerick-Shinkle is the spiritual care manager at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of Lawrence Journal World’s health section.


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