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Grief, Loss, and the Holidays

Insight Counseling Centers presents a therapist round-table discussion on grief, loss, and the holidays.

Speakers: Carol Smith, LMFT, Dr. Dwight Hughes, LMFT, Jordan Malone, Meadow Alsobrook, LPC-MHSP(Temp)

Grief Resources

Therapist-Recommended Books

A Decembered Grief: Living with loss while others are celebrating (1999 & 2011) by Harold Ivan Smith

Seven Choices: Finding Daylight after Loss Shatters Your World (Neeld, E. H., 2003)

The Empty Chair: Handling grief on holidays and special occasions (2001) by Susan J Zonnebelt-Smeenge & Robert C. DeVries

On Grief and Grieving (Kubler-Ross, E. & Kessler, D., 2014)

Brave Enough (Strayed, C., 2015)

The Grief Recovery Handbook (James, J. J. & Friedman, R., 2017)

I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping, and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One (Noel, B. & Blair, P. B., 2008)

Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss (Schwiebert, P. & DeKlyen, C., 2005)

Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief by David Kessler

Tips on Managing Special Days

Plan ahead. Ask for support from others. Give yourself permission to take it easy.

Have realistic expectations. Decide if you can handle the same holiday responsibilities and events that you have in the past without being overwhelmed. Watching others who are celebrating when you are grieving can be painful.

Let family and friends know what you have decided. Once you have reached a decision regarding how you want to celebrate the holidays, share those plans with your loved ones so that they are aware of any changes in your holiday routine.

Accept help. If other offer to take over some of your holiday tasks – like shopping, cooking, and decorating – consider accepting their help. If you still want to do your own shopping but cannot face the holiday hustle and bustle, consider shopping online.

Don’t isolate yourself. It might be tempting to consider not celebrating the holidays at all, but participating in a few carefully selected activities with others is a healthier approach.

Allow yourself to be happy. Being happy does not mean you have forgotten your loved one. Finding moments of joy and laughter during the holidays can be a source of comfort. Don’t feel guilty if you are able to experience happiness in the midst of your grief.

Find comfort in helping others. If you feel it would help you cope, consider giving a donation or gift in memory of your loved one, or consider inviting someone to join your celebration who might be alone for the holidays. You could also look into adopting a family in need during the holiday season.

Take care of your physical health. It can be all too easy to use alcohol to self-medicate your mood during the holidays, but remember that alcohol is a depressant and will only make you feel worse. Try to find time for exercise, which can help with depression.

Consider creating a new holiday tradition or ritual. While some grieving people find comfort in established traditions, others find them painful. Talk to your family about any activities you find too distressing and decide what you might do instead.

Ideas to Spark Your Creativity

  • Light a candle or put a special bouquet of flowers on the holiday table in remembrance.
  • If your loved one is interred, visit the cemetery and decorate the memorial site with holiday decorations.
  • Tell stories about your absent loved one and look at photos of them.
  • Play your loved one’s favorite music or plan a meal featuring you loved one’s favorite foods.
  • Set a placemat for your loved one on which family members can write memories.
  • Consider creating a slideshow on the computer that family and friends can watch during the holiday celebration.
  • Create a memory box. It can be filled with photos of your loved one or written memories from other family members and friends.
  • Construct a decorative quilt using favoirte colors, patterns, symbols or images that remind you of your loved one.

Know the Signs of Depression

  • A depressed mood most of the day (feeling sad, empty, hopeless, or on the verge of tears)
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
  • Weight loss (even when not on a diet) or experiencing weight gain
  • Also note decreases or increases in appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping or being overly tired
  • Restlessness or feeling slowed down
  • Fatigue or a loss of energy
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • A lack of concentration or difficulty with decision making
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

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