Help for the Holidays

Sherry Williams White, nurse, writer and grief specialist, shares ten simple ideas for making the holidays easier when you have had a loved one die. You will get permission to say no and discover ways to simplify so you can preserve your energy. Grief is hard work and it can seem even harder when the holidays arrive.

by Sherry Williams White

It can be a difficult time of year, when everyone expects you to be happy—or at least act happy—and join in the festivities of the season. Here are some ideas to help you get through this tumultuous season.

You don’t have to.
If certain family traditions are making you uncomfortable this year, don’t do them. Don’t carve the turkey if you don’t want to. Don’t sing-along. Be careful not to throw out all your traditions, but don’t be afraid to drop some. You can always pick them up another year.

Where’s the party?
Just because everyone usually comes to your house for the holidays doesn’t mean they have to this year. Feel free to try something new to allow yourself room to grieve. Move the party to your sister’s house, or to a lodge. If you’re too tired to make your famous recipe, let someone else prepare it to your specifications.

Be prepared for the holidays to be emotional. You will cry. Carry tissues. Tell others that you probably will cry and that it is okay. Encourage them to cry with you.

Checking it twice.
If you’re in grief, then you’re having trouble remembering things. It’s normal. So go ahead and make a list. Then look at what’s most important. Are there things on the list you can let go of?

Let the list remind you but don’t let it enslave you, says Sherry Williams, grief counselor and publisher of New Leaf E-Magazine. It’s supposed to work for you. You’re not supposed to work for it.

Just say no
Forget ho, ho, ho. If you’re comfortable with, try saying “no, no, no” to invitations. “You don’t have to explain a ‘no’ any more than you do a ‘yes’” says Jim Burge, a grief counselor. “You don’t have to give a reason for saying no. Be kind but be firm. No.”

Hanging of the green.
Or, more accurately, hang onto the green. You can’t buy your way out of grief, but you may be tempted to try. Don’t try to lesson your pain with more gifts or grander gifts, Williams urges. It just won’t work.

Give a little.
Williams suggests buying a gift for your loved one and giving it to someone who would not otherwise have a gift. “You’ll be surprised at how the love you remember will grow with the giving of that gift.”

Give less.
At the same time, Burge encourages you to let go of gift-giving entirely if it is just too difficult to this year. If you can’t go that far, consider, giving a keepsake that belonged to the person who died.  What gift could have more meaning?

Professional shopper Irene Kato suggests that you find one gift you can buy for all or most people on your list. Consider an inspirational book, CD, or stationery, and buy enough for everyone.

Telling stories.
You might be tempted to try to forget, but you’ll find hope in recalling favorite memories and funny stories about your loved one.

“How easily we forget that every function of a griever comes after much effort. Nothing is easy. Your heart isn’t in it. There’s a blank spot in your life. You need friends and family to understand when you say, ‘I can’t. I simply can’t. It’s too much.”

Ask friends and family to share their recollections with you in the form of photographs, stories, and mementos, Williams says. Some families actually box, wrap and give memories of a loved one to each other.

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