If grief is a constant companion, it won’t take a break just because it is the holiday season. If the loss is new, the holidays may bring constant reminders: the way your spouse sang off key; shopping with the best friend; those long calls with a sibling.
Even if the loss is not recent, the same melancholy can still be present. As educator Ken Druck, Ph.D., once noted, “grief has a life and timetable all its own.”
There are reasons, though, that the grief may be more difficult to shake. As we grow older, change can be more difficult. Because older adults often experience multiple losses within a short period of time—perhaps a spouse and a sibling or best friend—the grief period may be prolonged and the person may not realize they continue to grieve.
Whether the loss is recent or years old, if you are grieving this holiday season, here are some tips to cope:
- Recognize your feelings. It may seem counterintuitive during what is supposed to be such a happy time of year, but it is OK to cry or be sad. There is no reason to bury your feelings for fear of ruining everyone else’s holiday.
- Remember the loved one. The temptation may be to walk on eggshells and not mention the loss. If that is what works best for you, that’s perfectly acceptable. But many people find joy and healing in bringing the loved one into the holiday celebration. Reminisce about past gatherings. Sing his or her favorite carol. Engage in an activity that honors the lost loved one, perhaps planting a tree or making a donation to their favorite charity.
- On the other hand, skip some traditions. Some things might be too hard to cope with, especially if the loss is new. If your spouse always made a big show of carving the ham and you can’t yet bear to see someone else step in, buy a pre-sliced ham, or carve one in the kitchen. Maybe it is time to break with tradition and offer a substitute.
- If you’re up to it, make new memories. There is no hard and fast rule that every holiday must be the same from cradle to grave. With such a significant change that the loss has caused, it may be best to try something new. Maybe that means allowing someone else to host the family meal, or incorporating a walk after the presents are opened. Perhaps you want to do something drastic, like travel instead.
- Take care of yourself. Plan time for exercise and healthy meals. Avoid overindulging in food or alcohol.
There is simply no way around it: The loss will be felt and likely will for every holiday that follows. Grief is normal after a loss. But if the feelings are overwhelming, contact Haven Senior Horizons at 623-236-2000 for help.
American Psychological Association Help Center (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/anniversary.aspx)
Arizona State University School of Social Work (http://www.cswe.org/File.aspx?id=37530)