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Posted: Monday, December 7, 2015

Coping with Grief During the Holidays

With Thanksgiving behind us, the countdown to Christmas is officially on. The next few weeks will be filled with events, shopping, decorating, wrapping, traditions and, ultimately, the big day itself. It’s a season many people look forward to all year long – so much so that many started celebrating weeks ago. And while the hustle and bustle eventually gives way to the warmth and spirit of the season, for those dealing with the loss of a loved one, this can be a very difficult time of year. Sometimes, a loss is so devastating that one ends up dreading the very season so many others are looking so forward to – simply because it feels wrong to celebrate or be happy in a time of such personal grief.

Blount Memorial Counseling and CONCERN licensed marriage and family therapist Barbara Lasater says grieving families often have different ways of dealing with the holidays. “Some families cling to their holiday traditions and adhere to them closely, just as they would if their loved one was still with them, while other families will opt to do something completely different, such as take a vacation or spend the holidays with friends in a different location to help take their minds off the situation,” Lasater said. “Others will decide to ignore the holidays altogether because it’s just too hard,” she added.

Lasater says choosing to break those long-held holiday traditions sometimes can be hard for other family members to understand. “It’s a very personal decision,” she said. “Sometimes, other family members will disagree with what you’re choosing to do, and may try to convince you to stick with your usual holiday plans, but if avoiding a big Christmas party or family dinner is what you want to do, you shouldn’t let others talk you out of it,” she explained. “Remember, how you choose to handle grief this time of year is up to you,” she added.

If you do choose to break traditions or ignore the holidays altogether, Lasater says there are some things to keep in mind. “It’s important to try not to plan on ‘just getting through it.’ Sometimes people who are grieving convince themselves that they’ll never be happy again,” she said. “It’s important to remember that there will be days of love, joy and happiness to come. Give yourself permission to have a good time at holiday events if you choose to attend them. Sometimes, simply being around people who love us can help,” she added.

“However you decide to approach the holidays, it’s helpful to try to focus on what it is you can do. Many people take comfort in giving a gift in memory of their loved one or donating money to charity in their name,” Lasater explained. “Or, give yourself a gift or opportunity that your loved one may have chosen for you,” she added.

Finally, Lasater says, however you spend your holidays, remember to acknowledge your loved one. “It’s important to remember how special your loved one was to you and your family,” she said. “Some ways to do this include burning a candle in their memory as a solemn reminder of their absence, or hanging a stocking for him or her and placing special notes inside with your thoughts and feelings,” she explained. “Don’t underestimate the need for support this time of year. Allow yourself to express your feelings, and remember that there is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays when you’re grieving,” she added.

Blount Memorial Hospital also is hosting a grief-related educational seminar this week. Chaplain Jerry Scott will present “Surviving the Holidays” on Tuesday, Dec. 8 from noon – 1 p.m. at the Blount Memorial Home Services and Hospice Building, located at 1095 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway.

For more information about this seminar, call 865-977-5775. For more information about Blount Memorial Counseling and CONCERN or to schedule an appointment, call 865-984-4223.

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