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Coping with Grief During the Holidays

The holidays are a time for making spirits bright – gathering with friends and family, sharing gifts and stories, and enjoying time-honored traditions. But when you’ve lost someone close to you, this time of year can make your grief even more difficult to bear.

There are ways you can cope with your grief, care for yourself, and even create opportunities for healing. Pamela Gompf, manager of bereavement programs at OhioHealth, shares some of the advice she gives when counseling others through loss.

Put yourself first

When you’re grieving, it’s okay to make self-care a priority. This is something we have to go over a lot with people – It’s okay to take care of you. You are important in this. And your feelings are unique to you,” says Gompf. “People who have lost the same person, whether it be a child and a spouse, or the parents of a child, will have totally different perceptions of that loss. Give yourself permission to feel the way you feel, and understand that taking time for yourself doesn’t mean you love the other people in your life any less.”

Acknowledge the difficulty

“Acknowledge that the holidays are going to be challenging time for you. You don’t have to pretend that everything will be okay,” says Gompf. “When you’re honest with yourself about how difficult it might be, you can begin to prepare for your feelings.”

Have an exit plan

“The holidays are a happy, joyful time, and people who are grieving often put pressure on themselves to meet those expectations, trying not to make other people sad. And that can be overwhelming,” says Gompf. “Or, you might believe you’re ready to be social, but feel differently after you arrive at the party or family gathering. I recommend that people plan ahead for those feelings. Drive yourself if you can, so you can leave when you feel like you need to. And be honest and open with people. Let them know you might need to leave suddenly, and if you do it’s just because you need some space.”

Take everything in moderation

“People who are grieving often have less energy than normal. Emotional stress takes a physical toll, and emotional exhaustion is much harder to recover from than physical exhaustion,” says Gompf. “Listen to your body, and focus on caring for yourself. You don’t have get out and shop as much as you used to. You don’t have to accept every invitation. You don’t have to mail every card. Try doing things in small increments. And when you need to rest, it’s okay to rest.”

Start a new tradition

“Sometimes It’s hard to let go of old traditions, but if they’re bringing up painful feelings, it may be the right time to set them aside for awhile,” says Gompf. “Concentrate on what your heart feels good about doing. The ones we’ve lost will always be a part of our lives, and trying something new doesn’t mean you love them any less. It can be something simple, like bringing out a favorite photograph and lighting a candle, hanging a cherished ornament, or sharing the recipe of a favorite dish so others can make it. Starting some new traditions can also be recuperative. It could be something that honors the memory of your loved one, like donating to charity, or volunteering to support a cause close to them. When my father died, we discovered he had donated to the food bank for years. So now our family gets together and volunteers at the food bank every year. It’s our way of continuing his legacy, and keeping him in our hearts during the holidays.”

You can find grief support workshops and classes on the OhioHealth website. If you have questions, call (614) 533.6060.

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