Dealing with grief during holidays possible with preparation

Very shortly we will be in the midst of the holiday season, which can prove to be a very challenging time for those who are grieving.

For many of us it is an equal challenge, even if it has been several years since their death.

Each of us have our own grieving time and there is no fixed time for anyone until they have lived through it.

For my wife and I, it will be our third holiday season without our daughter, who died with stomach cancer, at 42 years of age, leaving a husband and their 4-year-old daughter.

In looking back for additional information about this subject I found a misconception I had believed for many years that grief and mourning were the same and interchangeable.

Grief is the internal thoughts and feelings we have when someone dies. In other words, grief is the internal meaning given to the experience of loss. Mourning is taking those internal thoughts and expressing them outside you. Talking about the person who died, crying, expressing your thoughts through art and music and celebrating special anniversary dates that held meaning for that person who died are just a few examples of mourning.

To mourn puts you on the road to recovery from grief; holding grief in only slows down recovery from your loss. A person’s experience with grief can be short or long, mild or disruptive, mental or physical, depending upon many influences. Only you will know when you are ready to experience the next phase: being in mourning and moving toward healing.

The following tips may help those dealing with grief during the holidays:

1. Only do what feels right. It is up to you to decide which activities you can handle. Do not feel obligated to participate.

2. Accept your feelings. Everyone chooses their own path. Some feel bad they are not up for the holiday and others feel guilty because they may have a feeling of joy.

3. Call on family and friends. Talk to them about your emotions. Be honest about how you would like to do things this year. Have an “escape plan” from the event you elected to attend if it does not go well. Seek out support groups, faith-based events and close friends for you to share your inner feelings.

4. Focus on children. Many holidays involve children and realize your choices will affect them and their perception of death. If the situation gets to be too much, from your view, make careful plans to leave.

5. Plan ahead. Sometimes the anticipation is worse than the actual holiday. Be involved in comforting activities prior to the holiday so you will have something to look forward to rather than the possible pain of the holiday.

6. Scale back. If thoughts of many holiday activities feel overwhelming, reduce the time involved. For example, reduce decorations, cut back on sending cards, limit holiday parties and dinners.

7. Give. In times of grief sometimes our biggest comfort is helping others. Consider a gift to a needy family in your loved ones name. Take time to listen to the concerns of others with their loss. Give your time and talents or make a donation to a charity known to your loved one.

8. Acknowledge those who have passed on. Talking about your loved one to others, lighting a candle for them, planting a tree, creating a memory box, and doing an activity they liked.

9. Do something different. Go to a new location for family activities, change the menu or go out to eat, volunteer, invite a friend over, travel and create new memories.

10. Skip it. If a holiday event feels too much for you, opt out; however, let family and friends know. Plan an alternate activity for yourself and let someone know your plan for this holiday year and for this time in your life.