Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Coping with the Holidays - After a Loss

The holidays can be a special, yet difficult time for those who have lost a loved one. These treasured days are times of joy for most people. But when you have had a death in the family, they can be a time when the lights, laughter and joy of the season are in great contrast to your own sad feelings. What can you do to deal with these special times of the year?

1. Plan Ahead 
If you think these will be difficult days, plan ahead in detail for them. Create a plan - even a back up plan.

2. Have Reasonable Expectations 
Rather than assuming these times will be terrible, remember that few things in life are all bad or all good. What has been a joyful time in the past may still retain positive aspects. Don't jump to the conclusion that it will be terrible. You can't really foresee the future. Instead, you may want to reduce the demands on you by giving yourself permission to not do as much as you did in the past in terms of entertaining, party-going, gift buying, card sending and decorating. People will understand.

3. Watch Your Thinking 
Avoid thinking an activity or day has to be all good or else it is a failure. Don't discount the positive experiences and feelings you have. Your loved one would want the best for you. Don't magnify the negative and minimize the positive in your life. Be realistic in your thinking. Acknowledge the positive. Avoid creating lots of "shoulds" and "oughts" and then "beating yourself up" when you are overly critical of yourself thinking you didn't measure up. We tend to be harder on ourselves than anyone else.

4. Tell Others Your Preferences 
Other will want to know how they should treat you. Tell them what you prefer. It helps them, and it helps you. Let them know if you want them to speak of the deceased. Let them know if you want the family to come to your house or, if this year, you want the gathering to be at someone else's house.

5. Give Yourself Permission 
Allow yourself to try to do what you want but give yourself permission to step back if it's too difficult for you. For example, you may tell a friend you will come to their party but you may wish to leave early or excuse yourself if it becomes overwhelming. They will understand and not be offended if you leave early. This allows you to try, but to back away based on your needs. It's usually better than staying home alone.

6. Adjust Rituals 
Some people will want to repeat all the usual activities and rituals. Give yourself permission to change at the last moment if it is too difficult. Others may choose to go out of town to visit or do something entirely different. This may be shared with family members in advance so they know the plans. You may want to make a special gift to charity in remembrance of your loved one, plant a tree, or create a special act in your own home. The important thing is to do what makes sense and feels appropriate for you.

7. Greeting Cards 
Sometimes the arrival of greeting cards addressed to the deceased can catch us off guard. Telephone calls can also surprise us. It is okay to cry. You will be able to cope.

8. Time Together/ Time Apart
Special occasions can be difficult or they may be a source of great comfort and renewed joy. You may want to plan your holiday schedule so you have time with other people and time by yourself. We need both. We must find the balance that works best.

9. Children/Family 
If there are children in the family you may choose to decorate and celebrate for their sake. Involve them in deciding what you as a family will do this year. Give them permission to be happy as well as to grieve. Encourage them to join you in creating a memorial for your loved one.

10. Support is Available Through Hope
Our bereavement counselors are available to help you cope with the holidays in the way that works best for you. Consider attending a support group near you. You may also call 239-382-4673 and ask to speak with a counselor.

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