What would the world be like without holidays?

Each year, families and friends look forward to sharing these special times together. This is often not the case for the bereaved, especially during the first holiday after a loss.

If I were to ask you what you needed this holiday season, what would you say? Just like you, I was brought up to believe that holidays are fun and joyful. But now that you are grieving, it can make the holidays a painful and exhausting experience. Take the time to find healing activities and appreciate your life. Look at what your loss experience has taught you about the strength you have found in yourself.

You know what it’s like when the season is approaching and everyone around you seems to be busy doing something to create a happy holiday. You can also keep busy this season by focusing on those things that help you manage your grief. These activities can bring a sense of personal renewal and a feeling of significant accomplishment. Be flexible in your thinking as you do practical and sensible things that help you deal with your painful loss such as:

1.      Keep a grief journal for venting. This can become an outlet to share what you are going through. Then reflect on what you wrote, how your grief has changed and how you are managing. You can create a biography of your loved one in the journal that helps you search for answers to your questions.

2.      Use poetry to memorialize your loved one. Poems have great meaning to those who write them and those who read them.

3.      Write a letter to yourself from a position of what you now know about what happened to your loved one, what got you though it, and how you found meaning in it.

4.      Create a memory book with photos or a box with mementos and reminders of the connection you shared with the person who died.

5.      Wear something your loved one gave you and let others know of its significance.

6.      Purchase a fragrant candle and create a ritual as you light it and reflect on your loved one’s life. Rituals have a beginning and an end. That is why lighting and extinguishing a candle is symbolic.

7.      Keep an item that belonged to your loved one as linking objects are more than just things. These objects are physical items that connect you to your loved one and can help you accept their death. These transitional items hold special meaning and serve as reminders that although your loved one is physically gone, you are still spiritually connected.

8.      Create a memorial fund in your loved one’s name. Contact your local bank or a foundation to help you and then let others know how to donate to the fund.

9.      Focus on others in need and volunteer in your loved one’s memory at a nursing home, soup kitchen, or charity.

10.  Read a card or letter given to you by your loved one.

11.  Watch a home video of your loved one.

12.  Express your grief through music. Whether you choose to sing a song or write one, the creative expression can be healing. Sit back and listen to a song that is meaningful to you and brings you strength.

13.  Buy a gift for yourself that your loved one would have liked.

14.  Create a memory quilt which can be used to cover a bed or chair. Include family and friends in this activity. A quilt can be made of digital photos transferred to fabric squares and your loved one’s clothing.

15.  Take care of yourself. Focus on eating right, exercising, limiting alcohol, maintaining a healthy body weight, and getting adequate sleep.

16.  Review what you have done in the past. Think about what you can simplify. As you focus on traditions, be mindful of those things you can handle and those things you want to change. Let others know the changes you intend to make.

17.  Give yourself permission to leave early from a gathering.

18.  Rather than shopping at the mall, consider catalog and Internet shopping.

19.  Don’t send out holiday cards if it is a task that’s too difficult.

20.  Let others know that it’s okay to reminisce if you want to talk about your loved one. Usually stories lead to stories that will make you laugh which can actually help you manage grief reactions.

Barbara Rubel 2011

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Barbara Rubel

Barbara Rubel, BS, MA, BCETS, DAAETS, is a nationally recognized author and keynote speaker and trainer on increasing self-awareness of skills and strengths that improve the ability to handle job burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and vicarious trauma. Barbara’s programs motivate professionals to build personal resilience. Barbara is the author of the book, But I Didn’t Say Goodbye and the 30-hour continuing education course book for Nurses, Loss, Grief, and Bereavement: Helping individuals cope (4th ed.). She is a contributing writer in Thin Threads: Grief and renewal; Open to Hope’s Fresh Grief; Coaching for results: Expert advice from 25 Top international coaches; and Keys to a Good Life: Wisdom to unlock your power within. Barbara was featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Fatal Mistakes: families shattered by suicide, narrated by Mariette Hartley. She also developed the Palette of Grief® Program: Understanding Reactions after a Traumatic Death Barbara’s background includes working as a hospice bereavement coordinator and serving as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College, where she taught undergraduate and masters-level courses in Death, Life and Health; Children and Death; Health Crisis Intervention; and Health Counseling. She currently is a consultant with the Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime and co-wrote their training curriculum, Compassion Fatigue/Vicarious Trauma. Barbara received a BS in Psychology and MA in Community Health, with a concentration in thanatology, from Brooklyn College. She is a board-certified expert in traumatic stress and diplomat with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.

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