The death of a loved one is a traumatic and emotionally painful experience. Coping during the holidays is a particularly difficult time for dealing with loss. Here are suggestions that may help alleviate that pain, and to foster healing and meaning.
Be Fully Present
Allow yourself to be fully present with your emotions and sensations. Even though grief can feel terrible and overwhelming, it is a normal reaction to death, and a healthy part of the healing process. Allow the tears to flow when you feel like crying. During grief, we sometimes experience our loved one through our senses. This can be in the form of hearing our loved ones’ voice, or smelling our loved ones’ scent. Allow yourself to take it all in and be fully present in those moments. It may be helpful to be keep in mind that that pain will be there, and to simply allow yourself the time and space to experience it.
Express Your Feelings
This can be done by journaling your thoughts and feelings about your loved one. Reaching out to a trusted friend and connecting on an emotional level may also be very helpful. Talking to another person who is also grieving can help in share in the experience and help you to feel less alone. Seek professional help from a mental health professional. This can be a valuable opportunity to process your thoughts and feelings in an emotionally safe environment.
Take Care During the Holidays
Keep in mind that it is natural to experience an increase in grief and emotional pain during the holidays and during anniversaries. You may have been feeling better and making progress in your grief path, only to experience a heightened sense of loss during the holidays. Do not let this alarm you and make you feel that you are regressing, that something is “wrong” with you, or that you are not grieving “properly.” This is a natural reaction and part of the grief process.
Take Time to Nourish Your Soul
Do whatever brings you a sense of peace and you have found in the past to enhance your mental health. This could be taking time out to exercise, enjoy a craft, read, spend time in nature, or meditate. The holiday season can get so busy that we find we do not have time to do what nourishes our souls when we need it the most.
Emulate Your Loved One
Take on a favorite characteristic or action of your loved one. Did your loved one tell jokes or stories during gatherings? Cook or bake? Lead a prayer or recite a poem? You may find comfort in carrying on a favorite aspect of your loved one. If you decide to do so, you may also wish to practice this before the actual event.
Keep An Object Related to Your Loved One
You may find comfort in a physical object. This may be a card or gift from your loved one, a souvenir from a place you visited together, or an item that represents an experience you shared. This may also be in the form of a meaningful bereavement gift, such as a blanket that can comfort you, or a special bracelet to wear on your wrist.
Although this may be a time when you expect others to support and comfort you, you may find yourself in a position of needing to forgive others. This may include forgiving others for the disappointment you feel that they have not been there for you in a way that you hoped for. Try not to assign meaning to this, such as having it mean how much you think that person cares about you. Death brings up our strongest vulnerabilities and fears, and not everyone will be capable of dealing with your loss and their own feelings about it. In addition, people may have their own wounds related to grief that prevent them from being there for you in a way that you would like. Forgive, try not to take it personally, and spend time with someone who does provide comfort.
Allow Yourself to Feel Joy
Remembering your loved one does not mean sacrificing joy. Allow yourself to laugh when it comes naturally. It is not a betrayal to your loved one to experience happiness and joy.
Pick and choose which of these suggestions resonate with you. The grieving process is intensely personal, and there are as many ways to grieve as there are people. The pain you experience is in proportion to the love between you and your loved one. The difference is that the pain will diminish over time, yet the love will forever endure.
Read more from Dr. DeLong on Open to Hope: Gratitude is Most Powerful on Difficult Days – Open to Hope
Check of Dr. DeLong’s book, FEELING Good: 35 Proven Ways to Happiness, Even During Tough Times