I was walking through a local square recently and came across a giant, lighted star ornament. Heard faintly in the background was the popular holiday tune, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” It was quite a beautiful scene from the outside looking in, yet all I could think at the time was, not for everyone.

During the past few weeks, several people have expressed to me, “I just want the holidays to be over.” As a bereavement counselor, this is something I hear every year. For those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, the holiday season can be the most challenging time of year with heightened feelings of loss, loneliness and sadness.

While there isn’t anything one can do to take away all of these feelings, there are ways to experience some comfort and better cope during the holiday season. I’ve gathered a list of them through my years of training and shared practices with other counselors, staff members and bereaved clients.

If you or someone you love is grieving, please know you are not alone. I hope that these suggestions offer peace, hope and ideas for gentle self-care during this holiday season and beyond.

Plan ahead. Create a list of events you agreed to go to; this will help you recall what you have committed to. At the same time, allow yourself flexibility. You may find you are too exhausted to attend the office party after all.

Ask for help. Ask a friend or relative to help put up decorations, wrap presents and write cards. The little things won’t seem like such big things. And, you’ll likely find that those you love are more than willing to lend a hand.

Help others in need. Nothing feels as good as giving back during the holidays. Contributing to others diverts your attention away from yourself and actually makes you feel better, too.

When you go out, leave a light on and a radio playing. Walking into a house with warm light and low music can be comforting when returning home alone on dark winter evenings.

Allow feelings to come and go. Express your feelings. Create support for yourself. Gather with people you feel you can talk to or join a support group. Feel the ebbs and flows of your emotions – and float with them.

Take care of yourself physically. Cry, breathe, drink water, exercise and say no to sweets and alcohol. Taking care of yourself physically leads to a healthier mental and emotional state.

Honor your loved one’s spirit in concrete ways. There are many ways you can do this. It’s about finding what’s meaningful to you. A special ornament, a bouquet of flowers on the dinner table, a favorite dish of theirs, a toast in their honor.

Begin a gratitude journal. Begin writing down three things you are grateful for each day. These do not need to be big things. Simple things are important in our grief to begin to find hope, meaning and gradually re-create our lives.

Avoid the holiday. If joining in festivities is too much to bear, you can always choose not to observe. You can also avoid old traditions or customs, and start something new. Either way, there is no shame in choosing not to celebrate if it’s too painful.

Karen Gore is a licensed, independent clinical social worker (LICSW), and serves as Bereavement Coordinator and Counselor at NVNA and Hospice.


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