Episode 129: Grief and the Holidays

change grief Nov 20, 2023


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I hope you listened to last week’s episode of the podcast where I spoke with Amber Jackson about grieving through the Savior. She is such an amazing example of that so I hope you go back and listen if you haven’t. For this week’s episode, I wanted to talk more specifically about grieving in the holiday season.

Grief is difficult no matter what, but can be especially difficult during the holidays. I have received grief training for my job as a mental health therapist through the University of Utah’s Caring Connections program and run grief support groups in my community. The information I share today came from that training so I just wanted to give credit for the valuable information you’ll receive today. 

The holiday season can sometimes feel like a “set-back” in the grief experience. It can bring up many memories of the past, thoughts about the loss of what could have been and a lot of expectations that you may not have the capacity to deal with. That doesn’t mean it is a setback in your journey of grief. It is actually just a different place in the journey. The holidays in general come with stress but adding grief into the mix can bring unimaginable stress if you aren’t prepared with some strategies.

With that being said, there is no one right way or wrong way to experience the holiday season or grief for that matter. There will only be your way of experiencing the holidays through your grief and that way will be the best way. So as I go through some of these strategies, keep that in mind. Take what works for you and your loved ones and throw out what won’t. 

The first strategy for grieving in the holidays is to HONOR YOUR GRIEF. That means to think about what matters to YOU. What will be most meaningful and most comfortable for YOU to experience? Keeping in mind what you have capacity to do.

In this, you do want to consider those others, friends and family, who are also grieving this loss but without compromising your own needs. That’s an art of a skill in general but one that will serve you well in the grieving process if you can work to develop it. This can mean trying to reach a consensus about what traditions to observe and which to omit for this year. Sitting down with those people who this may affect and asking them what is most important and meaningful to them to observe this holiday season and which traditions they do not necessarily need to prioritize. You can always return to old traditions another year. 

Honoring your grief also means giving yourself permission to grieve.  This year, you don’t have to be the strong one or the capable one. You too can show your grief. When others see you grieving it also gives them permission to grieve. You don’t have to hold it together for the holidays to pass. You can allow yourself to continue to grieve through the holidays. 

The second strategy for grieving in the holidays is to RECOGNIZE THAT THIS YEAR WILL BE DIFFERENT. I know that seems obvious but this really means sitting down and setting realistic expectations of yourself and of others. Grief consumes energy. You will not have the stamina to “do everything”. Letting people know what you will and won’t be doing up front allows you to determine what you have the energy for. Which means looking and really planning your holiday.

One way to do that is to try and not to let the days and events sneak up on you. Sitting down sooner rather than later and really look at what you will be participating in and what you won’t. This helps you also not feel like you are missing out or disappointing people. Also, really look at those activities and obligations which deplete you.  This may not be the year to do those activities. Focus on those things which edify you,and pour back into you. 

Also, remember that you can always enlist the help and support of the people you trust. People are so willing to help when you are grieving, but often they don’t know how to help. If you can give specific requests, they are often more than willing to assist and help. This can help you meet some of those expectations you do want to make happen this year. 

The third strategy to help grief in the holiday season is to PLAN FOR EMOTIONS AND MEMORIES. Making sure that you are setting aside time to allow the memories that will come and the powerful feelings that will arise.They will come and often in powerful ways. So set aside time, maybe even each day to feel those feelings. Really be intentional about bringing up memories. If you don’t set that time aside to bring up memories of past holidays, your mind will bring them up in times you aren’t wanting them to. Maybe even taking time to remember your relationship in a way that is meaningful to you. 

Be prepared for what you will do when the feelings come up from songs, sights, smells and locations that the holidays will bring. This means practicing skills that will help you to be prepared for how to process through emotions or to set it aside for a time that is more helpful for you. 

Also, when you are planning for emotions to come up the best idea is to practice good self care: eat wisely, exercise, rest, be with supportive people, seek solitude, and attend to your spiritual needs. Caring for YOU might be the best gift you are given in the holiday season. 

I understand that might have been a lot to take on and this wasn’t meant to be a list of things you need to do. Honoring your grief, recognizing that the holidays will be different, and planning for your emotions are big concepts and are not meant to be mastered. If you take just one idea from this and implement it, great! Just do what works for you. Also if you know someone who might be going through a grief process themselves and this would be beneficial for them, send them this link and let them know you were thinking of them. 

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