Grief may surge during holidays


Feelings of grief can come and go without warning, even years after a loved one has died.

Certain events, smells, foods, music or photographs can trigger a sudden temporary upsurge of grief.

The holiday season, with all of its traditions and emphasis on family and friends, is a time that can heighten or reignite these intense feelings. Knowing this can help you prepare for a possible roller coaster of emotions so you can better navigate this potentially difficult time.

Here are some strategies to help you, or someone you love who is grieving, through what can be a challenging time of year:

Recognize that grief is very personal and very complex. Listen to your inner voice and don’t be disheartened if you can’t just “snap out of it.” When feelings of grief strike, ask yourself if you want to be alone or if you’d feel better in the company of friends or loved ones. There’s a lot of pressure to act happy throughout the holidays, but you shouldn’t deny being sad. Allow yourself to cry, and don’t use drugs or alcohol to numb your feelings. Experts agree that experiencing the pain of grief enables you to continue healing.

Focus on good health. Try to get plenty of rest, eat a nutritious diet, and exercise. Not only will these activities help you feel good, they will also help you prevent unhealthy holiday weight gain and help mitigate holiday stress. Make plans to go out, but consider your ride home. When you accept an invitation to a holiday gathering or event, understand that your feelings about the event may change on that day or even during the event. If you can, plan to attend with a friend for support, but make it clear that you may decide you want to leave early.

Scale back. If you suspect certain traditions or activities will be too difficult, allow yourself to skip them. You may want to decorate less or not at all. Don’t feel pressure to do all the holiday activities or maintain all the traditions if you’re not feeling up to it.

Help others. Volunteering and helping others may counter your own grief. You may also want to make a donation to a charity in your loved one’s name. Working at a food bank, homeless shelter or a community service event will also put you in the company of other helpers.

Create a new tradition. Look for a new event, decoration or food item to add to your celebration. Something that honors your loved one or helps you to remember them reinforces your connection and can often be helpful in your grief journey.

Take things one step at a time. Accept grief as part of the holiday experience. Whether you need an afternoon of crying, laughing, or both, make some time for it. Expressing your feelings is an important part of coping with your loss.

Lead and your children will follow. If you are helping your children with grief through the holidays, remember that children are resilient. You might even notice that your child is focused on helping you with your grief. In most cases, as your child sees you deal with grief in healthy ways, he or she will learn to do so as well.

Talking about your loved one to keep their memory alive can add dimension to your child’s holiday and build memories of activities they did together. You can reinforce this by looking at pictures or recalling a special story or song that they loved.

Talk to a grief counselor. If your grief is making you struggle to keep up with the normal activities of life, you could benefit from talking to someone who is specially trained to help. Your local hospice may have grief counselors or a grief support group that you can attend.

Cherrie Serra, RN, facilitates several grief support groups for UPMC Susquehanna’s Home Care and Hospice. For more information, call 570-320-7691.