Finding hope in the holiday season after the loss of a loved one

by Victoria Shea

(December 2018, Plain Press)        “The word ‘holiday’ implies a time of celebration, gatherings or worship,” wrote April Ratcliffe, a licensed social worker and bereavement coordinator for Hospice of the Western Reserve in the Winter, 2012 About Grief. “How can you celebrate when experiencing so much pain? The thought of celebrating during the holidays is often too much for some. How do you celebrate when your loved one is gone?” 

   It is a question that many during the holiday season may find themselves asking after the loss of a loved one. 

   “Grief can’t easily be defined or categorized, and with holiday grief, no one person will react the same.” quotes a funeral trade journal, The Meaningful Funeral. “When the holiday season-traditionally a time of togetherness and family-comes this year, the grief they already feel can become unimaginably more difficult.” 

   So how does one find hope during the holiday season, especially as they may question who they are now with their loved one gone or how their family’s holiday traditions may change. 

   According to Doctor Alan D. Wolfelt, a noted author, educator and practicing clinical thanatologist, it is by remembering love. “Love does not end with death,” he wrote in Helping yourself heal during the Holiday season.“As you approach the holidays, remember: grief is both a necessity and a privilege. It comes as a result of giving and receiving love.” 

Tips on Coping with the holidays after a loss

   1. Accept the reality of the loss

   According to Ratcliffe’s article, the first task of coping is to “accept the reality of the loss. The holidays can be very demanding for anyone. You may feel that you are not up to it and find that it difficult to focus. Do what you can, if and when you are able. Ask for help if needed. Life has changed. It is fractured. Give yourself time to heal.” 

   Wolfelt agrees. “During the holiday season, don’t be afraid to express your feelings of grief. Ignoring your grief won’t make the pain go away and talking about it openly makes you feel better.” 

   2. Work through the pain of grief

   The second task is to “work through the pain of grief.” Both Ratcliffe and Wolfelt agree that you should allow yourself personal time to be with those who understand what you are going through that you can lean on during the holiday season. “Those who truly love you,” Ratcliffe wrote, “will understand.” 

   Wolfelt suggests that you do what is right for you during the holiday season and take the time to focus on what you want to do, rather than going along with plans others may have for you. This way, you can not only work through your grief, but also have a chance to start processing what the holidays may be for you now that your loved one has passed. 

   3. Adjust to the environment from which the person is missing

   Many may find that the third task, “adjust to the environment from which the person is missing” is one of the hardest to work through. Traditions, especially during the holidays, are often what makes the holiday meaningful and special for all in attendance. However, with the passing of a loved one, traditions are often forced to be changed. 

   For both Ratcliffe and Wolfelt, they encourage the sharing of memories. “If your memories bring laughter, smile. If your memories bring sadness, then it’s alright to cry,” writes Wolfelt. “Memories that were made in love-no one can ever take them away from you.” 

   Your family may also find that with the passing of a loved one, a new tradition may be created, allowing the blending of the old and the new. Perhaps a special ornament is displayed on the Christmas tree, or a candle is lit and placed in a window. The purpose of this task is to begin to slowly redefine yourself-who you are now, without totally loosing who you were before. 

   4. Find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of moving on

   The final task that Ratcliffe writes about is to “find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of moving on.” You are able to accept what has happened and are starting to finally heal, while still feeling a connection to your loved one. “To move on with your life does not mean that you forget your loved one,” Ratcliffe writes. “Memories help you stay connected. With time, the pain eases.” 

   Editor’s Note: Links to The Holiday Seasonby April Ratcliffe and Helping yourself heal during the Holiday seasonby Dr. Alan Wolfelt where they may be read in their entirety can be found on our website 

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