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Nicole Ball 

The holiday season is considered “the most wonderful time of the year.”

But for those who have lost loved ones, it can be the most difficult time of the year. The approaching holidays can feel discouraging and often come with a complicated mix of sadness, sorrow, anger and pain as we miss the ones we have lost.

Grief during this time of year can also lend itself to feeling as if we must experience the holidays in a “normal” way. Others often have expectations for us that can feel unmanageable and impossible to meet. Anticipating traditions that once brought delight can feel scary or painful.

What can we do if we are experiencing grief during the holidays?

Find a way to honor those that cannot be with you. A special ornament, a favorite dish at the dinner table, set aside time to share memories together, sing or play a special song, donate to a charity in their name, light a candle, volunteer your time in the community in their honor or create new traditions.

Help those who might also be grieving or need extra help during the holidays. Helping others and giving back can bring joy. It can be a new way to honor those lost and help someone who may be feeling the same difficulty during the season. Adopt a family to purchase gifts for, donate to an organization, volunteer your time, visit a nursing home, give to a local shelter or reconnect with those you have lost touch with.

Don’t feel guilty if it all feels like too much. It’s okay to not send out holiday cards if it is too difficult. It’s okay to say no to another holiday event. It is okay to not want to participate in everything. Allow yourself the space to be alone, make time for yourself, practice self-care and honor your own feelings. As well, don’t feel guilty if you are happy during the holidays. Feeling joy does not lessen how much you miss the person you have lost.

Ask for help. Identify the supportive people in your life that can offer a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to bring a dish, or two, or three when putting together a holiday spread feels like too much. Seek out those that would be willing to help you decorate when it all feels a bit daunting. Ask a friend to go shopping with you, meet for coffee or visit your loved one’s memorial with you. Oftentimes those around you want to help but just don’t know how. If you reach out, they often find great joy in being there for you.

Acknowledge that the holiday season will be different. When we enter the holidays expecting to feel the same amount of happiness we always have, we will experience even deeper sadness when feelings of grief come. Give yourself the permission to experience grief rather than feeling as if you must be happy to make the holiday “normal.” It is OK to feel the pain of your loss. The more we try to be strong and protect ourselves from the pain, the more it seems to grow. Allow yourself to feel the pain. Your pain is the result of love, and love should be honored and acknowledged.

Nicole Ball is social work professor at Ferris State University, a clinical mental health therapist and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling, a holistic mental health center in Traverse City. Learn more about at www.mentalwellnesscounseling.com

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