8 TIPS FOR COPING WITH THE HOLIDAYS By Jarene Barnes
The holidays are here! With the hustle and bustle of shopping, holiday gatherings (before COVID), and the sheer joy of it all, holidays can become quite overwhelming and stressful for some, let alone for those who are grieving.
Christmas, for many, can feel like a frozen moment in time, a moment of memories and reflections of loved ones who have passed and are dearly missed. For many, no matter how much they really want to enjoy the holidays, it can be a struggle.
My mother passed away 10 years ago. She was not only my heart, but she was also my best friend. I miss my mother very much, especially during the holidays and my birthday, which happens to be Christmas Eve. You see, my mother was the spice of our family’s lives. Throughout her life, she sprinkled the sweet spices of joy, love, laughter, passion, and truth.
Everyone who met her loved her personality and zest for life. My mother was also a phenomenal cook. She cooked with love and passion. It is during these holiday times I miss her cooking. Better yet, I miss my mother giving me cooking instructions or waiting to taste test my cooking (smile). Oh, how I miss those moments!
So, how have I learned to deal with the holidays over the past five years? Truth be told, I have had those frozen moments and hiccups where I was not able to function during the holidays. I want to share my strategies for coping with the holidays and every day.
- Acknowledge that the holidays will be different and will be tough. The first Christmas without my mother caught me totally off guard. I went through all the motions in slow mode. In all honesty, when January 2nd arrived, I exhaled. I was very thankful for my family, close friends, and church family during that time. They lifted me up during my first year of holidays without my mother.
- Family Traditions. Decide on which traditions you may want to keep or perhaps change. You may want to create a new family tradition in honor of your loved one, such as preparing one of their favorite foods, lighting a candle in their honor, or donating to their favorite charity. I always play my parents’ favorite song, “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole. My father would always sing that song to my mother at Christmas. And yes, they actually stood underneath the mistletoe in our living room. Traditions leave everlasting memories. My son now sings the “Christmas Song” to his wife!
- Be Honest with Yourself. Don’t pretend that you are feeling fine whenever you are not. You are setting yourself up for failure. It is not fair to you and others to believe that you can pull up your big girl pants or big boy pants in order to make it through a family dinner or party, especially if you are not feeling energetic or social.
- Just say, “No!”. It is okay to say, “Thanks so much for the invitation, but I won’t be able to make it.” Trust me, I have declined invitations and felt much better for doing so. Be sure to check in with a family member or a close friend, letting them know that you are okay. And, if you are not okay, then let that family member or close friend know that you are not okay. People really do care.
- No Guilt Trip. Do not let family and friends make you feel guilty. Only you know how you really feel. Everyone experiences the loss of their loved one and grieves differently.
- Make Time For Self-Care. The holidays are stressful enough. Be sure to make self-care a priority. You must take care of yourself first and foremost! It does not have to be expensive. It is about the simple things in life. Whether it is prayer, meditation, yoga, sipping a cup of tea, a massage, enjoying a movie, journaling, going for a walk, or laughing with a good friend, it is important to do what you enjoy. It really is all about you and your overall well-being!
- Volunteer. The best way to help yourself is to help others in need. We all need help in some way or the other. It is very healing to the soul to help others. One Thanksgiving, I volunteered with a local organization at their yearly Thanksgiving Distribution Drive to provide over 900 individuals with not only groceries for Thanksgiving dinner but resources from social service organizations, health & vision screenings, and free flu shots. Trust me when I say I forgot all about myself and the dread of the upcoming holidays. With all the negative things taking place in this world, this was a positive and rewarding moment to help others.
- Good Grief Seek Out Help. It is okay to seek out grief counseling, a support group for grief, or talk with your clergy. It can be very helpful and healing to talk with others who are struggling. You are not alone. I attended a Memorial Boat Cruise the second year after my mother had passed, and it was one of the most healing and touching experiences that I have ever had. There were families in attendance that were experiencing a very recent loss to those with years of missing their loved ones. Over a two-hour cruise and good food, I realized that I was not alone in struggling with the loss of a loved one.
AARP: Caregiver Support for Death, Loss, Grieving A Loved One. Learn more about saying goodbye, keeping memories alive, and finding renewal through loss.
Compassionate Friends: An international organization that provides support for families that have lost a child. Pittsburgh chapter meets the last Sunday of each month from 2:30 to 5:30 pm at Bower Hill Community Church in Mt. Lebanon. (412) 835-1105. www.tcfpittsburgh.org.
Family Hospice & Palliative Care: Offers free bereavement support classes to the community – 50 Moffett St, Mt. Lebanon. www.familyhospicepa.org. 412-572-8800.
Grief Share: Christian faith-based grief support groups for people grieving the loss of a family member or friend. Groups meet at dozens of local churches. Locations and information at www.griefshare.org or 800-395-5755.