Helping The Lonelies Cope With The Holidays
When most people think about the holidays, they’re anticipating the joy that the season will bring. That isn’t the case for someone who is mourning the loss of a loved one. For them, the holidays are only another reminder of the fact that their loss has left a void in their life that may or may not be filled again. This is the time when they most need to be around family and friends, even though including them in holiday events may seem awkward.
To help you create a holiday atmosphere that is not only festive, but also non-threatening for those who are still grieving, Gloria Lintermans and Dr. Marilyn Stolzman, co-authors of The Healing Power of Grief: The Journey Through Loss to Life , have put together the following tips in a recent press release:
- Create a new holiday ritual — Whatever way you might have set the table before, create a new pattern, maybe different seating arrangements, unusual flowers, something that was not tried before. Ask the guests to bring a small grab bag gift. The point is to establish a different ritual, a different style that is not a reminder of the past and not doing things exactly the same way.
- Include the bereaved in your plans — When the bereaved have too much time on their hands, they begin to think about past memories and events that were shared with the one they loved. Making them a part of your plans for the holidays helps them cope with change and gives their lives some structure because they have things to do. When plans are made, people often feel that they have something to look forward to and share.
- Help them stay focused on “now” — Worries often increase when people go too far ahead in their thinking. There can be great joy in living in the moment and not the past, or the future. It gives the person a break from their thoughts, and allows them to appreciate the present moment they are in. It is a good break from problem-solving and worry.
- Talk about the reasons they have to be grateful — When we are grateful for life’s blessings and for what we have, we distract ourselves from what is wrong with our lives. We fixate and ruminate less on what is missing. There is a lot to be thankful for: our children, our healthy minds and bodies, even in the midst of our grief. Our ability to see, to hear, to think, to reflect, to notice, to enjoy and to feel deeply increases our sensitivity and awareness of the world around us.
- Keep them moving — Exercise is a good antidote for holiday stress. Planning activities like walking, swimming, bike riding or hiking, moves us outdoors, and takes us out of ourselves and into the world. It may distract the griever from the constant state of anxiety which often accompanies early grieving. We release endorphins in our brain when we exercise that give our mood a lift. Exercise is often prescribed for depression and depressive thoughts.
- Be sure they eat properly — The bereaved often cannot eat, do not enjoy food, or may be inclined to eat too much or eat junk foods. Appropriate nutritional habits are important through the grieving period because the immune system is down due to stress. If a bereaved person was a caregiver and spent a lot of time cooking for an ill spouse they would have to learn to slowly convert this energy and give themselves permission to take good care of themselves. This is appropriate and not an indulgence. It is not selfish; it is good self-nurturing.
- Check that they are getting enough sleep — Sleep often gets disturbed during times of extreme stress. People report that they may fall asleep, but have trouble staying asleep. If the person in mourning was used to sleeping in a bed with their spouse, there is an increased awareness of the empty bed. Encourage them to listen to soothing music before bedtime so that they can relax, fall asleep, and stay asleep. It is important to not over stimulate the mind at least an hour before bedtime.
Remember, grief is a normal response to the loss of a significant person in one’s life. There aren’t any magic formulas to help people work through this mourning process. Don’t try to make them suppress their feelings because it is the holidays. Instead, help them see that they can still enjoy the moment without having to feel guilty about it.