Inviting Grief into Your Holiday Season: 10 Steps towards a Meaningful Holiday for those Experiencing Grief




Katie Godshall, LCSW-BACS,
JFS Intern Program Supervisor

This time of year is usually filled with flustered shopping, indulgent meals, traveling and time spent with our loved ones.  A season full of cheer can also be isolating and difficult if you have lost someone dear.  Whether this is the first holiday since the passing of a loved one or one of many since a loss, the experience of grief makes an impact.  If allowed, grief can hold so much power; it has the ability to make you feel isolated and as though you have little to no control. Alternatively, it has the potential to strengthen bonds and bring people closer.  Responses to grief can be felt on a spectrum—ranging from avoidance to integration into traditions and festivities.

It is common practice to focus on the niceties during gatherings, fearing that if the conversation turns to something heavier that the joy will be confiscated from the room.  This avoidance is typically achieved by a delicate dance between you, your friends, and family. You may want nothing more than for others to enjoy their time, while friends and family want nothing more than for you to enjoy your time with them; this mutual cautiousness feels heavy and precarious. This is a burden no one needs to bare. This is how grief can become so isolating.  We all have a fear of seeing a hurt in someone else and the fear can be so great and deafening that we miss the opportunity to cherish and honor the relationship with the deceased.

However, grief is not synonymous with depression and sadness. It can be found in the holiday traditions our families hold dear, the stories that are told every year, special dishes that are made, and even the plates and utensils we use.  A component of grief is not just the loss of the relationship; it is also the loss of the future with that person—tackling all of life’s ups and downs together.  It is a realization that the shared experience of life is not going to be what was or what could have been.  The intentional remembrance through action helps to ease this loss; while our loved one may no longer be with us, they can still be felt in everyday life, especially during the holidays. When we give ourselves and others permission/space to speak about a loss and honor relationships with the deceased it provides a connection to the missing link.

Here are 10 steps to cope with grief during your holiday:

  1. Acknowledge that this time of year can and will likely be difficult.
  2. Keep realistic expectations of yourself.
    • Think about the phrase ‘You need to walk before you can run,”. When you acknowledge that this year will be difficult, you open up the door to self-care.
  3. Everything in moderation (including Aunt Sue’s eggnog).
  4. Create or maintain a ritual to honor the loss.
    • Some people like to light a candle, re-create a favorite dish, or some like to sit in the quiet drinking coffee before carrying on with the day…this does not have to be something long and arduous.
  5. Do something physical.
    • Keeping moderation in mind, do something that gets you moving: walks, yoga, cleaning—it does not have to be extensive or exhausting.
  6. Listen to what your mind and body are saying.
    • Self-care is an important part of every day, and the holidays are no exception. Take time to enjoy that cup of coffee; the smell of fresh, crisp winter air; the feel of your favorite sweater; listen to the music, and see the decorations.
  7. Embrace your emotions: all emotions will likely be experienced during the holidays.
    • Tears are welcomed! Not only can they provide an emotional release, but it also carries physical benefits as well.
  8. Tell stories about the deceased.
    • Carrying on the memory of a loved will bring smiles to the listeners and the storyteller.
    • Tell people when you see reminders of the loved one. For example: I once knew a woman who—every time she would see a cardinal in the snow—would tell me about the time she and her husband would go bird watching and rarely see anything because they would be laughing too loud; except for two red cardinals.
  9. Be present.

Most importantly:

  1. Be kind and patient with yourself and loved ones.

If you are in need of additional assistance, Jewish Family Service (JFS) is here for you. JFS offers affordable compassionate counseling services at both our Metairie & Northshore offices. Call us at (504) 831-8475 to set up your first appointment.

JFS will also be holding a Bereavement Support Group from February 21st to March 28th; 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm at the JFS Metairie Office (3300 W Esplanade Ave. S, Suite 603, Metairie, LA 70002).

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