‘Tis the Season: Bereavement and the Holidays

During my time working in an emergency room providing crisis counseling to patients and families, I found one day to be harder than any other all year. This day was Christmas Eve. One particular year, there seemed to be more than the average death on this holiday. As a social worker providing crisis counseling in the ED, I would go with the physicians to inform the family of their loved one’s death and then would stay with the family for several hours arranging for them to view the body and of course provide emotional support.

My preconceived notions of how Christmas Eve and Christmas should be made this day an emotional one for me as I feel more than normal for the families at their time of grief. I, like most, struggle with grief and bereavement during the Holidays. It is a time that a loved one’s absence is particularly jarring. An extra place not set at the table, one less stocking hung, pictures and memories that cannot make up for that person not being present.

I have observed that those suffering from the death of a partner, a child, a parent are often told to “get over it.” These words may sound harsh but are usually said by other family members encouraging them to move on, to continue life, to get over it. I wish these words could not be spoken as they are far from the truth of what you will experience. We do not get over a tragedy such as this. It becomes a part of us. Usually something of this magnitude will change us. It will alter our thinking, it will disrupt our behavior, and it may even call into sharp examination our purpose and goals in life. This becomes who we are, and it lives on within us. When someone tells you to “get over it” it can seem they are telling you to return to who you were before you experienced this immeasurable grief. However, you will not be able to return to that place, for how could you; you are no longer the same person. And that is okay.

It is normal for our grief to change us. It is normal to be singing Christmas Carols at the top of your lungs in the morning and then have grief debilitate you in the afternoon. It is normal for anniversary dates, special events, and holidays to be especially difficult. Below are three suggestions on how to cope and remember your special person during this holiday season:

1. Be okay where you are. Stop thinking you need to be doing this, you need to be doing that. Stop thinking that you should stop feeling that emotion or you should have it more together by now. Be okay with where you are and in your feelings.

2. Create a new tradition celebrating and honoring your special person. This could be always making their favorite dish, creating a special holiday memento to put out, or keeping up with a holiday tradition they loved.

3. Find a support group. There are support groups for all types of different situations. It can help to try to connect with people that are experiencing similar grief to yours. This connection can help and empower you.

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