Coping with an Empty Chair this Holiday

December 19, 2016

Earl Grollman wrote, “Each person’s grief journey is as unique as a fingerprint or snowflake.” This quote speaks to the idea that there is no right way or wrong way to grieve, because people grieve differently.


Grieving the loss of a loved one is a deep and difficult challenge at any time. But the holiday season can magnify your sense of loss and mourning. Family gatherings and seasonal events can be painful reminders of the absence of a loved one.


During the holiday season, symptoms of grief that have previously dissipated may suddenly return, and it can seem as though one is actively grieving again. This experience is known as “anniversary grief.” Although anniversary reactions can occur for many years following a loved one’s death, they are usually felt most deeply during the first holiday season.


It is important to know that the return of grief is a normal part of the healing process. The truth is, we are never truly finished with grieving when someone significant to us dies. However, there are many ways to live with the loss without suffering from it.


The first step in coping with grief at the holidays is to acknowledge that the first holiday season is difficult. If you are mourning a loss of a loved one this year, here are some important things to keep in mind.


Accept your Feelings. Whatever they may be, make room for your feelings. It is important to recognize that every family member has his/her own unique grief experience, and no one way is right or wrong. Experiencing joy and laughter does not mean you have forgotten your loved one.


Create a New Tradition or Ritual. Acknowledge those who have passed by creating a new tradition or ritual in their memory. Some ideas: lighting a candle for them, talking about them, making a donation in their name, displaying their picture among holiday decorations, or placing a commemorative ornament on the Christmas tree.


Use your support system and reach out to friends and loved ones to help you through. Be mindful of your support system during these times and remain connected. Talk with loved ones about your emotions. Be honest about how you'd like to do things this year, and give yourself permission to limit participation in family or social gatherings as needed.


Take Care of Yourself. Try to avoid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Make yourself a priority by taking care of your mind, body, and spirit. Some ideas: participating in regular physical exercise, keeping a balanced diet, writing in a journal, participating in faith services, or indulging in a spa day.


Connect with a Counselor or Bereavement Support Group. If you have been considering seeing a counselor or joining a grief group, perhaps the holiday season is the right time. The clinicians at YVA are equipped and ready to support you through your unique grief journey.


The return of grief over the holiday season is a normal part of the healing process. The most important thing to remember is there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season after the death of a loved one, and the best way to cope with the first holiday season is to plan ahead, get support from others, and take it easy.

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