• The Commission on Affirmative Aging

Surviving the holidays after a loss


Coping with the death of a loved one or dealing with a major loss of any kind is a difficult experience in and of itself. Coping with loss during the holidays with all of the trappings and traditions of activities with family and friends can be more than some can bear.

For those of us who will be suffering this holiday season, how do we survive all the celebrations, various experiences, changes and demands the holidays bring and place upon us? The key is to simply survive, hopefully with some semblance of sanity when the holidays have past. The key to surviving lies in having a plan and working the plan. Without a plan, you become subject to the whims and wishes of everyone else, and certainly not your own plans, desires, or needs. Without a plan, chaos and confusion may become your companions during the holidays.

How do you make a plan? Start by considering the “four ‘Cs’” for surviving the holidays (developed by Kansas City Hospice, underwritten by Prime Health Foundation). Begin with communicating your needs. What does you need to make the holiday a special day? What can be placed on hold? What changes will make the situations more bearable? What responsibilities can be shared among many family members?

Next, change your routines. Look at your family traditions and rituals and use your creativity to find alternatives that make sense and allow for a change to help you get through the holiday. It could be a matter of communicating to others that a special tradition or ritual is just being put on hold until time has passed to help in your healing process. Again, let other family members and friends know what the need is.

Thirdly, cut back on your planned activities. Because grief is fatiguing—physically, emotionally, and mentally— streamlining commitments during such times becomes a means of self-care. Such self-care could lessen the feelings of disorientation, disorganization or even the lack of motivation that can be experienced during the holiday seasons or on any special day that is memorable. Certainly, self-care can prevent major health issues.

Finally, celebrate the memory of your loved one. To celebrate means “to honor.” Make a special effort to remember and to honor the memory of your loved one who can no longer share in the special times of gathering together and being with family and friends. Such efforts may take the form of giving a gift to a favorite charity, lighting a candle, sharing favorite stories—any activity that is a constructive way of acknowledging the loss of one’s loved one together becomes helpful to all. And remember, laughter and enjoyment are important parts to what life is all about. Laughter is good for the soul.

Making a plan and working the plan is the key to surviving the holidays and possibly avoiding minor to major health consequences.

(Part Two will offer concrete suggestions for surviving the holidays and giving one’s self permission to grieve.)

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