COPING WITH GRIEF, LOSS AND THE FAMILY DURING THE HOLIDAYS by Sara Kropoth, Counseling Intern
Grief is an emotion that typically occurs after the loss of something significant in a person’s life. Grief can occur after the death of a loved one and is often accompanied by feelings of sadness and loneliness. Typically, holidays include being surrounded by families and loved ones but when dealing with grief the holidays can create days of intense loneliness, anxiety, sadness, and despair (Bendaña, 2017). This article focuses on how to cope with grief during the holidays.
Many can probably relate or have heard of the stages of grief which are denial, anger, bargaining and depression then finally acceptance ( McLean et al., 2021). These stages are a template to navigate grief, however, McLean et al. (2021) suggests that following these stages can make an individual feel pressured to grieve in a way which differs from their typical grieving process. It is important for an individual to heal the way that feels best to them.
GRIEF AND FAMILY
The experiences within the family system is unique for each family member. When grief occurs within the family system each family members experiences the grief process differently, because of the unique relationship between the deceased person and family member (Arslan & Buldukoğlu, 2019). Depending on the persons relationship to the deceased, the loss of a loved one can lead to to individual feeling multiple losses such as the loss of the family system, loss of relationship with the deceased, and possibly loss of hope and dreams (Arslan & Buldukoğlu, 2019). According to Arslan & Buldukoğlu (2019), grief can be an adjustment to families based on the role that the person who has passed played in the family system. For instance, there may be a spouse that manages money and the family system has to adjust to a new financial method (Arslan & Buldukoğlu, 2019). The passing of a spouse can be difficult because the living spouse may have to rearrange their life in order to adjust to new or different responsibilities. One grief that is hard for families is the loss of child which results in a huge change in the family dynamics and a tremendous emotion upheaval for the parents and the other family members.
COPING WITH GRIEF DURING THE HOLIDAYS
Coping with grief is difficult and the holidays can heighten these feelings due to their nature around loved ones and traditions. To help you navigate through the holidays, we will be debunking some common myths.
MYTH: “I have to feel happy… the holidays are such a cheerful time of year!”
FACT: Grief takes a different time to process for every individual.
It is important to note that the grief process varies in the length of time it takes to heal and could be from months to years. There are numerous factors that play into the healing process and it is important to take the time to process this information and emotions.
MYTH: “People will think it is strange if I am not sad.”
FACT: Everyone grieves differently.
Many individuals cope with loss different which may be evident with certain cultural or familial rituals, such as lighting a candle, wearing black clothes, celebrating the end of the person's life, or tearing a piece of clothing over one’s heart (Bendaña, 2017). A family is cultural characteristics, values, rituals and religious beliefs greatly influences their greiving process. (Arslan & Buldukoğlu , 2019).
Some individuals take part in religious practices which include memorial services or funerals that serve to create a space to feel and express emotions and can be beneficial to the healing process of grief. Bottom line: if rituals help you, celebrate those, especially during the holidays.
MYTH: “What if no one wants to talk about the person who has passed?”
FACT: Talking can help.
Talking allows you to express yourself and to keep the person’s memory alive. Talking about your loved one can make you feel good (Mascia, 2018) and can help you to stay connected to the person who has passed. Gathering with family members and talking about this person can be helpful for yourself and you would be surprised how much it could help another family member and close friends.
MYTH: “All I will do is think about the person I have lost.”
FACT: That is okay. It can be helpful to place that energy into helping others.
As we know, there are so many people that need help during the holidays. This can range from children who need clothes and toys to people who are homeless and do not have a warm meal. It can be helpful when dealing with grief, to focus on helping others in some capacity during this holiday time. Especially when you target your love one's energy in serving others the way that they would have. Offering a helping hand can make you feel better for helping someone in need and also serve as a distraction from the loss.
MYTH: “The holidays will not be the same.”
FACT: This may be true to some extent but this could be an opportunity to create new memories.
Bendaña (2017) suggests remembering the love one by organizing a special celebration with family and friends. This can be helpful for the healing process, allow you to feel connected to the person who has passed and an opportunity to create a new tradition. Traditions are often a strong component of the holidays and why not incorporate the loved one who has passed.
Overall, grief is difficult, but remember, be kind to yourself. Give yourself time to heal. It can be helpful in processing one's grief by accepting the reality of the loss and experience the pain. This is not to say that you have to just accept and move on but it is okay to feel the emotions surrounding grief. Again, everyone processes grief differently. The holidays can often exasperate the intensity of grief but preparing for the holidays and the feelings that could arise from them can be helpful.
If you would like to meet with a mental health professional, several therapists, associate therapists, and therapists in training are available at SAW Counseling Center. Additionally, check out our other resources on SAW Counseling Center’s website and our blog.
Arslan, B. Ş., & Buldukoğlu, K. (2019). Grief Support Programs Implemented to Reduce the Effects of Grief on Family. Current Approaches in Psychiatry / Psikiyatride Guncel Yaklasimlar, 11(3), 402–417. https://doi-org.proxy.library.nyu.edu/10.18863/pgy.444297
Bendaña, A. (2017). Coping with grief during the holidays. Nursing, 47 (11), 54-56. doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000525991.36485.1b.
Mascia, K. (2018). Get Your Cheer Back. Women’s Health, 15(10), 81–83.
McLean, E., Singer, J., Laurita, E., Kahler, J., Levin, C., & Papa, A. (2021). Perception of grief responses: Are maladaptive grief responses and the stages of grief considered normal? DEATH STUDIES. https://doi-org.proxy.library.nyu.edu/10.1080/07481187.2021.1983890
Wojtkowiak, J., Lind, J., & Smid, G. E. (2021). Ritual in Therapy for Prolonged Grief: A Scoping Review of Ritual Elements in Evidence-Informed Grief Interventions. FRONTIERS IN PSYCHIATRY, 11, 623835. https://doi-org.proxy.library.nyu.edu/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.623835