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Coping With the Loss of a Loved One During the Holidays

Losing a loved one to death is a painful and traumatic experience. The loss of a loved one is always painful, but during the holidays, the feelings of loss can be even more acute. In my interviews for my book Soul Service: A Hospice Guide to the Emotional and Spiritual Care for the Dying ( Balboa Press, 2013)  it was found that the dying person wants to be included as much as possible in all family activities and certainly longs to be touched physically and an active participant in the death process. Most dying people prefer to make their transition at home.
Once the death has occurred the family must come to terms with the finality of the experience. The ability to talk openly and honestly about feelings of sadness and loss and lean on one another for emotional support in a time of sorrow is important. Grief has its own timetable for each individual, but there are some general tips provided below by The American Cancer Society that can help you get through this especially difficult time following the death of a loved one:
  • Decide if you want to keep certain holiday traditions or create new ones. Plan in advance how you want to spend your time and with whom. Do something to honor the memory of your loved one.
  • Allow yourself to feel pain and whatever other emotions come along, too. Don’t let anyone else tell you how you “should” feel. Then express your feelings and let yourself cry.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat well and exercise. Allow yourself small physical pleasures like hot baths, naps, and favorite foods. But avoid drinking too much alcohol or using other drugs.
  • Forgive yourself for all the things you did or didn’t say or do.
  • Give yourself a break from mourning with distractions like movies, dinner out, reading a book, listening to music, or getting a massage or a manicure. You must work through grief, but you don’t need to focus on it all the time.
  • Consider getting some support. Talk about your loss and your memories of the life and death of your loved one. Do not think you are protecting your family and friends by not expressing your sadness. Ask others for what you need. Find and talk to others who have lost a loved one. Your American Cancer Society is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can help you find support online, local bereavement groups, and other resources. Call 1-800-227-2345.
When to seek help
People who have lost a loved one often feel more intense loss or grief around the holidays. But severe depression, grief, or mourning that continues for a long time without getting better may require professional help. Symptoms can include:
  • Constant thoughts of being worthless or hopeless
  • Ongoing thoughts of death or suicide
  • Inability to perform day-to-day activities
  • Intense guilt over things done or not done at the time of the loved one’s death
  • Hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there
  • Continued disbelief in the death of the loved one, or inability to accept it
  • Flashbacks, nightmares or memories that continue to intrude into thoughts
  • Severe and prolonged anger, sadness, or depression
  • Breaking off ties with friends and family
  • Extreme weight loss
In some people, the grieving process can go on for a long time. But if symptoms like these last more than 2 months after the loss, you might benefit from professional assistance.
Some ideas for honoring your loved one’s memory would be to take out pictures and relive happy family memories. Make a scrapbook of mementos to be passed on to the next generation. Put together a DVD or video of pictures of the dead love done accompanied by his or her favorite songs to be passed out to family members. Include in the holiday mealtime a special moment of prayer or silence in the loved ones memory or go around the table to share a happy or funny story about the loved one. Often there can be a small garden, tree, bush or plant dedicated to the memory of a loved. Making a monetary contribution to a favorite charity or church that your deceased loved one was involved with is also a good way to honor someone’s memory. The passage of time always to help heal a major loss but taking the time to process your feelings about the loss and get the help you need for support and resources during this difficult time can make all the difference.

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