Coping with the Holidays After the Death of a Loved One

By Janice Harris Lord

When Grief Comes Home for the Holidays

Many among us have struggled with the cloud of sadness than hangs over the holidays after a loved one has died. If the person was killed, the onslaught of holiday cheer may seem too much to bear. Holidays can give rise to new or returning bouts of depression, panic attacks, and other forms of anxiety for those whose lives have been affected.

Family members, friends, and work colleagues often re-experience life-changing trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, and overwhelming sadness. Some have trouble sleeping, while others don’t want to get out of bed. Tears come easily, often when least expected. Old ailments, including headaches, gastro-intestinal problems, and aches and pain may return.

Families who have made this difficult journey offer the following suggestions to help those who may be just starting down this path. Many were surprised to discover that the anticipation of a holiday without a friend or family member can be harder than the actual holiday itself. Holidays can be manageable if you take charge of the season, rather than letting it take charge of you.

Change Traditions

Trying to make this holiday seem like holidays of the past will only intensify the difference. Gather the family together early and decide which traditions you want to keep and which ones you want to let go. Change holiday plans to accommodate the needs and wishes of those who are hurting the most.

Create a Special Tribute

Some families light a special candle and place it on a holiday table to honor the memory of a loved one. Others keep a chair empty and place a flower or another memorial on the seat. Some write treasured remembrances and place them on a special plate or in a bowl for those who wish to read them.

Plan Where to Spend the Holidays

Many people think going away will make the holidays easier. This may be helpful if you are traveling to a place where you will feel loved and nurtured. However, if travel is arranged as a means of trying to avoid the holiday atmosphere, remember that American holidays are celebrated throughout this country and in many parts of the world. It is impossible to escape holiday reminders.


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