Ways to Cope

The holiday season brings memories of childhood fantasies, expectations, and a dinner table full of family and friends.  Everywhere you look, television, movies, newspapers, department stores and billboard ads show scenes of couples, families, and children smiling at each other.  Unfortunately, not all families are together during the holiday season.  If there has been a death or a serious injury in the family, the act of celebrating such as attending parties and family dinners may bring great emotional pain.  Season's greetings may instead bring season's dread.

Holidays can also bring with them both a sense of joy and stress to you or someone you love trying to cope with the extra pressure and a crowded calendar.  This additional stress and dread may become overwhelming when you are grieving and learning to live without someone with whom you have shared a part of their life.  The dread of attending a family gathering without this person's presence, or facing an empty place at the table may even become debilitating.

While nothing will bring back your loved one, you can learn ways to cope with the inevitable memory and pain provoking anniversaries and holidays.  The following are just a few suggestions that may give you or a loved one the time and space needed during an unusually stressful time of year and still allow “space and time” needed to deal with the natural grieving process.  

Coping with the Holidays
(for victim families)

1.    Change traditions. Have holiday celebrations at a different place this year. Do something different than you have done before. The more you try to make it the same as it was before, the more obvious your loved one's absence will be.

2.   Go away if you feel staying home will devastate you. But remember that November and December holidays are celebrated the world over. You can't fully escape. You may do better by facing your pain near the people who love you.

3.   Balance solitude with sociability. Solitude can renew strength. Being with people you care about is equally important. Plan to attend some holiday parties, musicals or plays. You may surprise yourself by enjoying them.

4.   Relive the happy memories. Pick three special memories of holidays past with your loved one. Think of them often - and celebrate them.

5.   Set aside "letting go" time. Mark on your calendar days or hours during the holiday season when you can be alone and grieve. You can more easily postpone your flow of grief in public if you have granted yourself these special times.

6.   Find a creative outlet. Write a memorial poem or story and share it. Contribute to a group your loved one would have supported. Use the money you would have spent for a gift for your loved one to buy something for someone he or she cared about.

7.   Don't forget the rest of your family. Especially try to make it a good holiday for the children. Listen to them. Talk to them. Celebrate them. If decorating or buying gifts is impossible ask a friend to do it for you this year.

8.   Utilize available resources. If your faith is important to you, participate in special holiday services. Some "veterans of faith" have serenity, a kind of healing wisdom. They can help you. Seek out a support group - or start your own through the holidays.