This post originally appeared November 25, 2015 but its content is still relevant today.
The change of seasons is upon us as the days cool and nights become longer. If the weather doesn’t remind you of the season, sights of holiday décor lining the aisles of stores and questions about holiday plans from friends and family certainly will. For many, these signals create a mix of emotions for the holidays ahead: joy, anticipation, stress, anxiety, sadness, excitement...the list goes on. Dealing with the loss of a loved one during the holidays can be especially difficult.
Grieving children may be hit hard with new emotions or memories during the holidays. It can be an isolating and distressing time, particularly if adult caregivers also are grieving. Children may be hesitant to express their grief in an effort to take away the hurt their caregivers feel. Open family communication about the holidays offers children the opportunity to share their grief, honor their loved one who died, and feel more confident on these special days.
The five tips below are guidelines for managing the holidays or other significant dates and times of remembrance in your family.
- Talk about the loss and acknowledge the upcoming holiday
- Talk about your loved one and the memories you shared.
- You may decide to have a specific time for a family meeting or an informal conversation about feelings or what the holiday will be like (conversations with kids in the car or while taking a walk can be effective). Model how to talk about feelings, for example: “I’m feeling sad thinking about the holidays without Mom. What are you feeling about the holidays coming up?”
- Discuss painful feelings your children may feel. Allow them to talk openly about their feelings and let them know that these feelings are normal.
- Anticipate that these talks will not be one-time conversations, but multiple conversations of varying lengths. Spreading out these discussions can disperse the emotions and energy of the day so it doesn’t build up.
- Acknowledge any feelings you have about the holiday
- Sometimes the anxiety or sadness we have about the holiday becomes bigger and more overwhelming than the actual day itself. Acknowledging your feelings may help make them more manageable.
- If your grief continues to feel overwhelming and interferes with your daily activities, use additional support such as friends, family, a counselor, support group, or faith community. These supports also can provide help to your children.
- Take care of yourself
- Remember the COPE acronym.
- Ask for help if you need it. Is there someone who may be able to cook a meal or wrap gifts, or who can you ask to help care for the kids if you need some alone time? Remind yourself it is okay to ask for help.
- Practice taking slow, deep breaths.
- Do something you enjoy with your kids—laughter is a great way of letting out big feelings.
- Decide which traditions to toss, keep or create
- Keep from ignoring the holiday altogether because it seems too painful to endure. Children need the opportunity to celebrate without feeling bad or guilty. Remember, kids need to be kids—playing, laughing, and taking grief breaks are as important as working through the hard stuff.
- Include children in the decision about holiday activities. Kids like predictability, so including them can help them feel a sense of purpose and control over the holiday.
- Let them know you (and they) might not have as much energy or interest this year and that’s okay too. Know that you may not want to and don’t need to continue the same traditions you always have.
- Find ways to remember your loved one. A previous post offers some suggestions for honoring and remembering our loved ones around the holidays. Here are a few more suggestions:
- Talk about your loved one and say their name aloud.
- Play holiday or special songs they liked to listen to.
- Create an ornament or special memory stone for the person who died.
- Attend a memorial celebration as a family.*
- Create special artwork in memory of your loved one.
- Pray or engage in spiritual activities if they are important to you.
- Volunteer in the community.
- Take a trip.
- Use a special container (e.g., a memory box, a stocking, a jar) to write notes about feelings and memories to the person who died.
- Wear something of theirs (e.g., jewelry, clothes, and accessories)—children may find this especially helpful.
As caregivers, taking time to talk, prepare, and find ways to connect with your kids can alleviate some of the holiday blues. Remember that support is available now and throughout the year. Together as a family and with the support of others, you and your children can survive the holidays and may even find this time is important to your healing.
By: Kate S., Child/Teen Bereavement Counselor
*Transitions GriefCare's Night of Remembrance provides your family an opportunity to light up the night with love, as we line walkways with luminaries dedicated to those you wish to remember. Children are welcome to participate. Luminaries lit at 6:30pm; service begins at 7:00pm. No registration required. Tuesday, December 12, 2017. Held at Ravenscroft School, 7409 Falls of Neuse Road, Raleigh, NC 27615.