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Family Living Focus: Dealing with grief during the holidays

For many people, the holiday season is a special time of year marked by festive celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. It is a time to look ahead with excitement to the approaching New Year. For those struggling with losses such as the death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, health concerns, or challenges related to the pandemic, the holidays are a difficult time full of painful reminders that may magnify their sense of loss.

Holiday songs on the radio catch you in the car. Television commercials reflecting Norman Rockwell images of the season come into your living room. Neighbor’s homes are decked with lights and wreaths. Sounds and sights of the holidays may seem inescapable. Coping with grief at such a time seems discordant with the world around you. Feelings of loss tend to be intensified.

A suggestion for coping with grief during the holidays is to give yourself permission to do what is comfortable. At a time of year often guided by tradition, find the way that feels right for you to make it through the season. Some people find it helpful to connect with family and friends, emphasizing the familiar. Others may wish to avoid old traditions and try something different. Others will find new ways to acknowledge the season.

Plan for the approaching holidays. This might be a difficult time for you. The additional stress may affect you emotionally, cognitively, and physically. This is a normal reaction. Be prepared and gentle to yourself.

Recognize that the holidays might not be the same. Expecting everything to seem the same might lead to disappointment. Doing things a bit differently can acknowledge the change while preserving continuity with the past.

Be careful not to isolate yourself even though you are socially distancing due to the pandemic. It is all right to take time for yourself but do not cut yourself off from the support of family and friends.

The holidays may affect other family members. Talk over your plans and share your feelings. Respect other’s choices and needs, and compromise if necessary.

Avoid additional stress. Decide what you really want to do, and what can be avoided.

If you, or a loved one, are struggling with grief and loss, consider contacting your community medical center or mental health center. They have trained professionals on staff and may be able to offer some further suggestions or sources of support.

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If you would like more information on “Grief During the Holidays” contact Gail Gilman, Family Life Consultant, M.Ed., C.F.C.S. and Professor Emeritus University of Minnesota at waldn001@umn.edu. Be sure to watch for more Family Living Focus™ information in next week’s paper.

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