The holidays can really be a double-edged sword, when it comes to grief. It is typically a time or comfort, connection, family gatherings and memories. In grief it can be a painful reminder of the loss of loved ones and tough life changes. For many, it is a bittersweet combination of comfort and pain.
Here are some tips to help you through the holidays.
Thanksgiving Grief Tip #1: Be prepared for grief triggers.
Anticipating triggers and thinking of strategies for coping with them can sometimes make them a little easier to manage in the moment.
A trigger could be, that not only is your loved one missing, so is the special dish (Mom’s famous pumpkin pie) that only she could make. You anticipate that when it’s time for pie, you will likely feel that twinge of heartache. You know it will be painful when it’s time for pie.
What strategy can help you deal with this?
One that comes to mind, is that YOU make the pumpkin pie his year. Maybe you get mom’s recipe or try a new recipe of your own. It can be therapeutic to carry on the ritual that she had for so many years, a way to feel connected to her.
Perhaps you start a new tradition of having pecan pie or some other type of dessert, if it just doesn’t seem right to have pumpkin pie this year.
Thanksgiving Grief Tip #2: Be grateful.
Gratitude helps us shift our focus, so we start noticing some of the positive things that exist around us, rather than exclusively the negative. There is always something you can be grateful for. Look for the small things. Is it a beautiful, crisp fall day? Is Grandma coming to be with the family this year? Does your niece’s sweet, innocent smile melt your heart today? Or are you grateful to have a quiet, relaxing, low-stress Thanksgiving this year?
Thanksgiving Grief Tip #3: Look for help to cope and find balance this holiday.
Join and post in the grief groups, come to the Good Grief Coaching Zoom meetings to help you connect with others. It is helpful to see how others are handling their grief. Also you can learn some new tips and tools for coping and remembering your loved one.
Thanksgiving Grief Tip #4: Allow yourself to take a break from the group or family if you need to.
When you are emotionally depleted, even if you have the most wonderful family and supportive friends, big gatherings can be a bit much. Plan to get some space from the togetherness if / when you need it. You may need some time and space to recharge.
Be aware of your needs and limits. This is important because there may be a lot of pressure to participate. Thinking through your events, deciding what you will attend, and/or creating plans in advance to take breaks (or leave early) can be very helpful.
Find an excuse to slip away and have a few minutes of peace and quiet. Offer to take the dog out to stretch her legs, or take that bottle of wine to the neighbor. Excuse yourself from the group to call a friend. Sometimes all you need is just a short break from all the stimulation. It could be that the only viable escape route is the bathroom, but it will do the trick. Lock the door behind you, sit for a few minutes, close your eyes, and take deep breaths. A quick way to calm down is to breathe slowly from your diaphragm. A word to the word of caution, don’t disappear for too long if you don’t want people asking ‘Where have YOU been?’.
Thanksgiving Grief Tip Five: Connect with your loved one through creativity
Create something that reminds you of your loved one. Creativity can reduce stress and help coping skills. Also, it’s a way to connect with and honor your loved one. What you decide to create is up to you. Perhaps you can go through some old photos and make a collage of Thanksgivings past that you can pull out and display in future Thanksgivings.