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Published on December 12, 2018

couple comforting each other

Tips For Handling the Holidays After Losing a Loved One

While the holidays are supposed to be joyous and magical, facing a holiday season after a loved one has passed can be especially difficult.

Moments But No Miracles

We all grieve in different ways, but the pain of sorrow is something everyone wants to stop. “We won’t have a magic moment when the unhappiness will go away, but we can have, sprinkled into the season, some moments when we feel good,” said Cathy Frisko-Holsing, LCSW-PIP, a licensed clinical social worker with Avera@Home. “Seek those moments out, but be honest with yourself. No matter what, some sadness is likely.”

Plan Things Out with the Three C’s

Frisko-Holsing suggests the three C’s, a method recommended by grief experts nationwide:

  • Choose: You can decide the details of your holiday season, and how you’ll remember those who are gone. You might need more time alone, or want to be with just a few relatives rather than the entire extended family, especially if this is the first holiday season since a death. Carefully choosing how you grieve – and celebrate – is important. It’s also impossible without the second C, which is …
  • Communicate: Let family know you’re facing grief in a way that best fits you. That might mean attending a meal, but not spending a full day. Or it could be you’ll see everyone at church, but not take part in a gathering. If you share your choices with the people you love and trust, they are more likely to realize how they can help, which in turn can lead to the last C.
  • Compromise: Discussing expectations can be tricky. “Having a more concise support system – perhaps one sibling, adult child or close friend – to aid you in sharing wishes is a good idea,” Frisko-Holsing said. “They can back your efforts and help others understand. You might find ways to meet halfway with gatherings or activities.”

Know Your Script for Advice-Givers

If you’re trying to comfort someone who is grieving, be present, compassionate, but don’t feel obliged to “solve” things. Just listening can be enough.

Those who grieve can expect to get plenty of advice – people are well-meaning and want to help – but having a “script” helps. “Grief is an overwhelming feeling and can make us feel like we’re losing control,” she said. “Taking control through simplifying a schedule or routine is one aspect during this time; saying ‘Thank you, but perhaps next year’ is OK, too.”

Realize This Isn’t Forever

Grief seems to make sounds louder, displays of affection among others more bittersweet and can make us lose focus. Accept these facts with the reassurance that these new feelings are not permanent. “Grieving is a very private experience, and it takes courage, patience and kindness – to others and yourself – to make it through,” she said. “Joy will return in time. The pain at this level of intensity will not permanently stay in your heart.”

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