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Photo by Sean
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
1
chat 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®.