by Toni L. Eaton
For families grieving a loved one—especially during these difficult times— the holiday season may magnify feelings of loss. Many of us, happily, draw comfort from the annual traditions and festivities, but for others, the holidays and their memories can deepen feelings of loss.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. However, for the bereaved trying to find a way through grief and loss, it can be difficult to go through the days in a world bustling with gift-giving, holiday songs, and preparations.
For all of us, the holidays will have a different feel because of the pandemic. Travel and gatherings may be limited, cancelled, or scrapped. Add to that a family loss, and the season may feel overwhelming. But there are things we can do to cope, remember loved ones, and even bring some joy back to the holidays.
Acknowledge that this year will be different. The holidays aren’t going to be the same without your loved one, so accept that things will be different and that you can do things differently. You don’t have to put up elaborate decorations if you find you don’t have the energy or time, or if they simply stir sad memories. You may decide to change the time or the place for a family meal or gift giving. Make your decisions for this year; you don’t have to make the same choices you have for 20 years, and you don’t have to do the same things again next year.
Understand that people grieve in their own way. Share your feelings with family and respect each other’s choices. Communicate and listen. Consider compromises so family members can deal with the loss in their own ways. Decide what feels right for you and let others choose their best path. Grieving can run the gamut from sadness to numbness, from a desire to talk, laugh, and share memories to a wish that you could simply move on and be left alone. Remember, it’s not unusual to experience the whole range of feelings within the same day, even the same hour.
Be flexible with yourself and others. If you feel up for an outing, great. If not, that’s okay too. Some may want to continue a tradition, while others may want to sit the traditions out this year. Perhaps you may want to change or start a new tradition, such as including a moment of remembrance for those who have passed. While you may not feel like joining in one tradition, such as a family party, you might offer to be part of another activity, such as cookie making.
Recognize your loved one’s presence. Lighting a special candle, observing a moment of silence, or creating a new tradition in your loved one’s honor can commemorate memories in a positive way. Share memories if you feel able, even through the tears. Let people around you know it’s okay to say your loved one’s name. Sharing stories can bring your loved one into the holiday season with you.
Remember others – and reach out. Sometimes the best way to forget our own troubles is simply to help someone else. Keep in mind relatives, friends or neighbors who may be alone and want a meal, a call or just an email letting them know they are thought of. It is hard to visit this year, but make time to set aside your own concerns to care for someone else with a delivered meal or card or gift.
Give yourself and your family permission to enjoy the holidays. Smiling and laughing is not a betrayal. Don’t feel guilty if you find you are enjoying yourself. Take time to love those in your life and to be loved by the people around you.
Take time to care for yourself. Grief is emotionally, physically, and psychologically draining. Be sure to get plenty of rest, eat well, get some exercise, and adjust your pace.
There is no special formula to make the holidays easier for those who are grieving. Taking care of yourself, deciding what is most comfortable for you and your family, and realizing that the season this year will be different will help manage expectations and offer hope for the holidays.
Most important, be kind to yourself and give yourself time. Know that grief has its own timetable, and that it will be different for everyone. But as time goes on, grief does lighten and will become easier to handle.
Toni L. Eaton, RN, BSN, MS, is the President & CEO of Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care of West Bridgewater, a dynamic non-profit hospice serving more than 55 communities south of Boston. OCH also runs the Dr. Ruth McLain Hospice Home in Braintree.A native and resident of the South Shore, Toni brings her compassion and experience as a nurse, a veteran, and a community leader to her insightful columns for South Shore Senior News. Her leadership has been honored by several groups including the South Shore Women’s Business Network, and she currently sits on the boards of the Hospice & Palliative Care Federation of Massachusetts and the Brockton Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association. For more information, call (781) 341-4145 or visit Old Colony Hospice &Palliative Care