We don’t forget or move on in the wake of losing someone we love. We learn that we can decide how we remember, honor, and incorporate them into our lives in new ways. If you foresee yourself or someone you love struggling with grief and the holidays this year, may these suggestions offer you a little hope.
“How did I survive this year without you? How will I survive next year without you? The answer is the same: Love and grief. Both essential, now, to my survival.” — Dr. Joanne Cacciatore
As far as I know, we can’t push through grief. We can’t rush our healing. For me, I’m not really sure what closure even means, which isn’t to say that I have not found healthy ways to cope and meaningful ways to serve the world through my open heart. In fact, that’s the key to my service and survival: keeping the heart open.
Where grief exists, the easy is not easy.
I do understand the concept of closure, of course, but it just doesn’t fit into the way I’m living my life. It’s like my loved ones left off with a semicolon instead of a period; there is no end to that kind of love in my world. They are with me, yet differently now. It’s my task to live in such a way that honors their life, which includes everything in between and outside of birth and death.“I have so much of you in my heart.” — John Keats Click To Tweet
I keep my heart open, and sometimes that means the pain comes bursting through as if my brother’s death has just happened all over again. It means the devastation of losing my father brings me to my knees, begging for an answer. As I sit here writing this, my heart is very, very open to it all.
I have no final answers, no closure to offer. I do have love, and hope that a semicolon is more reflective of what’s really going on. With this perspective, there is life before, and life always; that semicolon just means there has been a transition—it is a connector.
Timelines do not matter for the grieving. You may be entering your first holiday season without your loved one, or you could be very familiar with grief and the holidays that come no matter what. My intent is for this post to be a glimmer of hope and nourishment for the heart.
If someone you care about is grieving, these simple suggestions can also help you to understand and better support that person. In any case, may we all find ways to tap into the peace that’s available this holiday season, for we are not alone.
Please note: This list is in no way comprehensive, and there are no “rules” for coping with grief during the holidays that I know of. Then again, I am not a professional, and this list does not serve as an alternative to professional advice or care. This is just from my heart to yours, with love.
How to Cope with Grief and the Holidays, and How to Help
If you are grieving…
1. Be honest. Tell others what you do want to do, and what you don’t want to do. Your honest expressions and requests leave less room for misunderstanding and frustration between you and your friends, family, and coworkers. More than likely, they want to help but just don’t know how or are afraid to do the wrong thing.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s a sign of courage, surely, and awareness of what you’re needing. This may be the right time to seek counseling and support from a professional. (I think it’s something we could all use at some point in our lives.)
3. Plan events ahead of time. If you attend events, drive yourself so that you can leave when you need to. Perhaps better, have a trusted friend accompany you to help you make an easier entrance and exit.
4. Light a candle or turn on a lamp in your home in their memory. It’s amazing how soothing a soft glow can be.
5. Make your decorations meaningful. Dedicate the whole Christmas tree to your loved one and decorate it with ornaments that resemble what they loved and valued. Handmake a memorial ornament, wreath, or other decoration for the home. This might be a good time to minimize decorations and gifts, and just focus on one or two meaningful things.
6. Connect with your loved one’s friends/family. Send a holiday card or gift to the friends or family of your loved one. Spend time together to reflect and share stories.
7. Serve. Make a donation to a charity that supports a cause that was important to your loved one. Volunteer in your loved one’s memory. Donate a meal to a family in need through your church, charitable organization, department of social services, or salvation army.
8. Create a memory box or a memory stocking. Handwrite loving memories and traits of your loved one, and place them in the box, jar, stocking, or other container. Everyone can sit down, pick from the collection, and share the love, together.
9. Practice self-care. Really, do something that’s just for you. It’s not self-indulgent, but necessary for healing. Allow quiet time for nothing at all, buy yourself something that brings comfort, journal, listen to guided meditations, get a massage or other physical care, etc. Here are some more ideas.
10. Give yourself permission to live. Allow yourself the gift of being in the present moment, present with the fresh air and trees, the blue sky and red cardinals, the breaths you’re breathing and the body you’re inhabiting. Give yourself permission to love and live, here and now.Keeping memories of our loved ones alive in our hearts is part of the healing journey. Click To Tweet
If you know someone who is grieving…
1. Be sensitive and empathetic. Understand that there is no one way or wrong way to grieve, and acknowledge that your coping style may differ from theirs. Try to be patient and present with what’s coming up for your loved one.
2. Pay attention to their cues. If you accompany your loved one to an event, agree to remain aware of any particular behavior or expression that hints that they’re ready to leave. Also, just pay close attention to how comfortable they feel when you bring up their loved one. Some people enjoy talking about their loved one and sharing stories, while it makes things harder for others.
3. Encourage, but do not push. It can be healthy and good for them to get out and be with people, but try not to force the subject. There’s often a fine line between encouragement and intrusion, and I understand how sensitive this can be. Just be sincere, patient, and compassionate with your proposals.
4. Plant a tree or make a donation in honor of their loved one.
5. Beware of the word “should.” Don’t tell someone what they should do, or how they should be behaving or coping. Be a source of acceptance for this person who is learning what works for them.
6. Offer to make the their loved one’s favorite dish.
7. Offer a specific way you can help lighten the burden of the holiday season. Cook their favorite meal, bake so they don’t have to, clean the house, go for a walk outside with them, go grocery shopping for or with them, or drive them to events.
8. Don’t force your views on them. Sharing your beliefs and personal experiences can be comforting and helpful. If you do share, do so in a way that accommodates their views, which might not be the same as yours. Leave room for interpretation, even if you think you’re right. I know how much I cherished this kind of space when I was grieving in the beginning.
9. Inquire about their interest in old and new traditions. Ask if they would like to continue certain holiday traditions. If they would like to change something, help them explore new traditions, perhaps in memory of their loved one.
10. Just be all there with them. Practice the ancient art of listening. Are you all there? Being present with your loved one as they grieve and live and heal might be the most important gift you can give them. You do not need to fix their problems; just showing up makes a world of difference.The world does not stop, not even for grief. You know what else keeps going? Love. Click To Tweet
If you feel up to it, please share with me anything that helps you cope with grief during the holidays. Do any of the above suggestions help? Something else? Share in the comments or send me an email.
If you love someone who is grieving, what do you find helps you be of greater service? Let me know about your experiences with being part of a support system for the people in your life.
Spread hope for the holidays; send this to someone you care about.
Do what you can. Ask for what you need. Honor what’s showing up for you. Honor the life. Carry the love. Always the love.