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Holidays can be a difficult time for those who have lost a loved one, experienced a separation or divorce, or are dealing with a life altering injury or illness.  Rather than being a time of family togetherness, happiness, sharing, and excitement, holidays can bring feelings of sadness, loss, and emptiness.

Reminiscing about past holidays when your loved one was with you, your family was intact, and/or your body was whole and healthy may result in a renewed sense of personal grief—a feeling of loss unlike that experienced in the routine of daily living.  You may have friends and family members that continue to encourage you to join in the holiday spirit, but all around you the sounds, sights, and smells trigger memories of what was, what has changed, and what you have lost. 
There is no simple way take away the hurt you are feeling.  However, the following suggestions may help you better cope with your grief during this joyful, yet painful, time of the year.  It is important to remember to be patient with yourself– remember that by being tolerant and compassionate with yourself, you will continue to heal.

Talk about your feelings; don’t try to hide your grief

During the holiday season, don’t be afraid to express your feelings of grief.  Ignoring your grief won’t make the pain go away and talking about it openly often makes you feel better.  Find caring friends and relatives who will listen—without judging you.  They will help make you feel understood.

Be aware and tolerant of your physical and psychological limitations

Feelings of loss will probably leave you fatigued.  Your low energy level may naturally slow you down.  Respect what your body and mind are telling you.  And lower your own expectations about being at your peak during the holiday season.

Eliminate unnecessary stress

You may already feel stressed, so don’t overextend yourself.  Avoid isolating yourself, but be sure to recognize the need to have special time for yourself.  Realize also that merely “keeping busy” won’t distract you from your grief, but may actually increase stress and postpone the need to talk out thoughts and feelings related to your grief.

Be with supportive, comforting people

Identify those friends and relatives who understand that the holiday season can increase your sense of loss and who will allow you to talk openly about your feelings.  Find those persons who encourage you to be yourself and accept your feelings—both happy and sad.

If you lost a loved one, allow yourself to talk about him/her

Include the person’s name in your holiday conversation.  If you are able to talk candidly, other people are more likely to recognize your need to remember that special person who was an important part of your life.

Do what is right for you personally

Well-meaning friends and family often try to prescribe what is good for you during the holidays.  Instead of going along with their plans, focus on what you want to do.  Discuss your wishes with a caring, trusted friend. Talking about these wishes will help you clarify what it is you want to do during the holidays.  As you become aware of your needs, share them with your friends and family.
Decide which family traditions you want to continue and which new ones you would like to begin. Structure your holiday time.  This will help you anticipate activities, rather than just reacting to whatever happens.  Getting caught off guard can create feelings of panic, fear and anxiety during the time of the year when your feelings of grief are already heightened.  As you make your plans, however, leave room to change them if you feel it is appropriate.

Photo by Lavsen

Embrace your memories

Holidays always make you think about times past; instead of ignoring these memories, share them with your family and friends.  Keep in mind that memories are tinged with both happiness and sadness.  If your memories bring happiness—laugh, smile.  If your memories bring sadness–it’s alright to cry.

Think about the positive things in your life now

Spend time thinking about the meaning and purpose of your life.  Whatever the reason for your grief, use it as an opportunity for taking inventory of your life— past, present and future.  The combination of a holiday and a loss naturally results in looking inward and assessing your individual situation.  Make the best use of this time to define the positive things in life that surround you.

As you approach the holidays, remember: grief is both a necessity and a privilege. It comes as a result of giving and receiving love.  Don’t let anyone take your grief away.  Love yourself.  Be patient with yourself.  And allow yourself to be surrounded by loving, caring people.
The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans, Active duty service members, and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans, service members, and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is available. 
This information is provided by Vicki Lane, Regional Clinical Social Worker and a member of the Clinical Health & Wellness staff for Hope For The Warriors®.