11/18/06 Coping with the Holidays When Someone You Love is Missing, Part I
Circumstances and situations do color life. But you have been given the mind to choose what the color shall be.
Helpful thoughts and insights about the grief process and coping with the holidays:
People respond to grief and loss in different ways. Each person's experience of the loss, like each grief experience, will be unique. Everyone has their own way of coping.
Recognize the differences in coping styles and allow people to have their own way of expressing grief, unless the methods become self-destructive. It may be helpful to explain to family and friends how you are choosing to cope.
Be aware that it can be difficult for spouses and families experiencing the same loss to understand how different grief responses can occur. Respect the differences.
Allow yourself to feel and express sadness, anger or loneliness. The holidays do not eliminate the reasons for feeling these emotions and they may overstress your feelings.
For most people it is important to find a balance between honoring past traditions associated with the lost loved one and developing new ones. Some traditions may be too painful to continue. You can begin new traditions in memory of the loved one lost as solution to deciding whether to celebrate past traditions. Alternatively you can start brand new holiday traditions to reflect the change or the passage of time.
It is important to carefully consider any changes in traditions and make conscious decisions about how to handle them. If appropriate make it a family decision. Explain the changes to other family members and friends.
Plan a remembrance or find a special way of honoring the loved one lost:
Share favorite stories or memories about the person who has died.
Serve that person's favorite food or holiday dish.
Offer a toast, or say a prayer at the start of a family meal.
Hang a special ornament.
Listen to their favorite music.
Light a candle.
Hang a stocking for the loved one.
Let people include notes of remembrance.
Look at photos or videos from past holidays.
Plant a tree.
Establish a scholarship.
Dedicate a bench or plaque.
Adopt a needy family or donate to a homeless or animal shelter for the holidays.
Donate the money that would have been spent on a gift to their favorite cause.
Publish an ad in the local paper.
Write letters or a journal to the loved one to express your feelings.
Explore other ways of "Creatively Expressing Grief" Find a new way of celebrating—observe the holidays in a new place.
Volunteer. Helping others can be very healing. There are many worthy organizations that could use your time or the money.
Take time to care for yourself, to be alone with your thoughts, in remembrance or in prayer.
Many find solace in their religious beliefs and/or spiritual connections. Talk with clergy, spiritual counselors. Attend a service. Try to stay in the present and look to the future rather than dwelling on the past. Reflect on what is significant to you and still positive about life.
While it’s normal for the holidays and other special occasions to intensify feelings of sadness and loneliness, it’s important to take special notice of physical and emotional changes. Watch your referrals for persisting or maladaptive grief responses to their loss. To help yourselves, please ask a friend or relative to be mindful and notice if you are exhibiting any persistent or acute responses to our loss.
When to Be Concerned:
The Holiday Blues tend to be short-lived lasting a few days to a few weeks around the holiday season. The emotions—sadness, loneliness, depression, anxiety—usually subside after the holidays once a daily routine is resumed. However, if the symptoms of hopelessness and depression last for more than two weeks, persist past the holidays, or intensify during the season, a simple case of the blues may really be a case of clinical depression.
Concerning symptoms include:
Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood
Sleeping too much or too little, middle-of-the night or early morning waking
Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased appetite and weight gain
Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
Irritability or restlessness
Difficulty thinking, concentrating, remembering or making decisions
Fatigue or loss of energy
Thoughts of death or suicide
Feeling inappropriate guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness
A person experiencing the blues consistently over several weeks should seek professional help from physicians, mental healthcare providers, clergy, crisis lines, support groups, or mental health centers. Talking with a professional or taking a mental health screening test can help assess whether it's the blues or depression. Those with suicidal thoughts or ideation need to seek immediate care with their physician, crisis line or the nearest hospital emergency department.