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Facing the Holidays after Losing a Loved One

December 13, 2016

The holidays are a special time for many of us, but for those who have lost loved ones it can be heart-wrenching to experience the holidays without them.

Yesterday was the sixth month anniversary of the Pulse nightclub tragedy, and for many families in Central Florida and beyond this will be their first Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year’s without their close family member or friend.

Grief goes through many stages and takes different forms in different people. If you’re dealing with grief as we head into the holiday season, here are some things that can help:

Embrace Memories

Memories of loved ones may come at festive times, such as putting up decorations, enjoying holiday parties or attending religious services. It’s okay to step away and take time for yourself, if need be.

Create New Traditions

Consider creating a new tradition to incorporate and honor the memory of your loved one if preexisting traditions are too hard. Whether it’s holiday caroling, preparing a special dish, taking a great vacation, watching a cheerful movie or placing a beautiful bouquet on your holiday table in honor of your loved one, new traditions will help you create positive memories to associate with the holidays.

Plan Ahead

Be prudent about how you schedule your time during the holidays. Say yes to events and people you’ll enjoy and no to anything that will add to your stress. Set realistic expectations for what you can handle during this time of year. You may feel it’s necessary to assume all the responsibilities of your loved one (this is especially true for surviving spouses with young children), but only focusing on the most important events, traditions and needs of your family will limit your stress.

Be in Good Company

Surround yourself with loved ones. Isolating yourself will not make you feel any better, and may actually be more hurtful. Reach out to friends, family and others who you know are feeling the same way and who can help.

Be of Service

Often helping others helps us heal, too. Volunteer at your local church, synagogue or religious institution, help distribute gifts to those in need, donate to a food pantry or volunteer to help feed the hungry and homeless. Giving your time and giving back to the community can help you feel less isolated during the holidays.

Talk to Someone

Sometimes we can’t overcome grief on our own. The holidays can be overwhelming and feelings of grief can be unrelenting, so it might be a good time to talk to a therapist or grief counselor about how you’re feeling. He or she can help you navigate this new experience, give you a sense of comfort and teach you coping strategies to help you get through it. Group therapy, where you share your thoughts with others who understand your experience, also may be beneficial.

Self-care is so important this time of year, especially when you are dealing with the loss of a loved one. There’s no rulebook for how to deal with grief, but the holidays are a good time to surround yourself with the things and the people you love.