How To Help Ourselves Through the Holidays

There are many holidays or special days such as Thanksgiving, birthdays, Valentine's Day, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, Hanukkah, and Christmas to name a few. These are all difficult days for us; but for many, the most difficult holidays of the year are Thanksgiving and Christmas. More than any other, these days mean family togetherness. It is at these times that we are acutely aware of the void in our life. For many, particularly at Christmas, we just want to skip it; to go from Dec. 24th to 27th. We continually hear Christmas carols and people saying Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas . Doing our Christmas shopping, we see the perfect gift for our loved one who has died and suddenly realize that he or she will not be here to enjoy it.

Eventually, these times will not be so difficult. This statement may not seem possible to the newly bereaved, but grief WILL soften and you WILL begin to enjoy life again including these holidays .


SHOP EARLY

Shopping may be extremely upsetting. It may help to shop early through a catalogue, by phone, online, or make plans to shop with an understanding friend. Plan to relax over lunch aor a cup of coffee. Friends or relatives might be willing to shop for you if they realize that just the thought of shopping is bothering you. Some people pretend that November 25 is Christmas and try to get whatever shopping, writing cards, etc. done by that date. This enables one to avoid hearing Christmas carols, seeing all the decorations, getting through the crowds and being wished Merry Christmas.


FAMILY TIMES

Family get-togethers may be extremely difficult. Be honest with each other about your feelings. Sit down with your family and decide what you want to do for the holiday season. Don't set expectations too high for yourself or for the day. Undertake only what each family member is able to handle comfortably.

There is no right or wrong way to handle the day. Some wish to follow family traditions , while others may choose to change them. It may help to do things just a bit differently. What you choose the first year, you don't have to do the next.

Keep in mind the feelings of your children and other family members. Try to make the holiday season as joyous as possible for them.

Be careful of shoulds- it is better to do what is most helpful for you and your family. If a situation looks especially difficult over the holidays, try not to get involved.

Set limits for yourself. Realize that it isn't going to be easy. Do things that are very special and/or important to you. Do the best you can.

Once you have made the decision on how you and your family will handle the holidays, let relatives and friends know.


HOLIDAY PREPARATION

Baking and cleaning house can get out of hand. If these chores are enjoyable, go ahead with them but not to the point that it is too tiring. Share the load; let others get involved in contributing. This year, you could buy baked goods or go without.

Emotionally, physically and psychologically, it is draining. You need every bit of strength. Try to get enough rest.

If you used to cut down your own tree. Consider buying it already cut this year. Invite your children, neighbours, friends or relatives to help you decorate the tree and the house. If you choose not to have a tree, perhaps you could make or purchase a centrepiece, get a ceramic tree or a small table top tree.


CHANGE ROUTINES

One possibility for the first year may be to visit relatives, friends or even go away on a vacation. Planning, packing, etc. keeps your mind somewhat off the holiday and you share the time in a different and hopefully less painful setting.

If you are accustomed to having dinner at your home, change and go to relatives or friends; or change the time (e.g. from 2:00PM to 4:00PM). Some find it helpful to be involved in the activity of preparing a large meal. Serving buffet style, changing the menu or eating in a different room may help.


HOLIDAY TRADITIONS

How do you answer Happy Holidays? You may say, I'll try or Best wishes to you. You will think of many answers that you won't say, too.

If involved in organized religion, try attending Christmas services at a different time and/or church.

Some people fear crying in public, especially at the church service. It is usually better not to push the tears down at any time. You need to be gentle with yourself and not expect so much of yourself. Worrying about crying is an additional burden. If you let go and cry, you will probably feel better. It will not ruin the day for other family members but will give them permission to do the same.

Consider cutting back on sending cards. It is not necessary or expected to send cards, especially to those you will see over the holidays.


ALTERNATIVES / COPING

Do something for someone else, such as volunteer at a soup kitchen or visit the lonely and shut-ins. Ask someone who is alone to share the day with your family. Provide help for a needy family. Donate a gift of money in your loved one's name.

Share your concerns, feelings, apprehensions, etc. as the holiday approaches with a relative or friend. Tell them it is a difficult time for you. Accept their help. You will appreciate their love and support at this time.

Holidays often magnify feelings of loss of a loved one. It is important and natural to experience the sadness that comes. To block such feelings is unhealthy. Keep the positive memory of your loved one alive.


AND FINALLY

Often after the first year, the people in your life may expect you to be "over it". We are never "over it", but the experience of many bereaved is that eventually they enjoy the holidays again. Hold on to HOPE.

Don't forget that anticipation of any holiday is generally much worse than the actual holiday.


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