Dealing with grief during the holidays

The holidays, usually a time of celebration with family and friends, can be an especially difficult time after the loss of a loved one. “If you’ve lost someone close to you, recognize that the holidays can intensify your feelings of grief and loss,” says Erica Krause-Wagner, FNP, nurse practitioner at the Gundersen Lansing Clinic. “Grief is a natural process, but don’t let it isolate you, especially during the holidays. Instead of avoiding celebrations, surround yourself with family and friends, and continue holiday traditions or begin new traditions.”

Grief is different for everyone and for every situation. According to Krause-Wagner, “There is no set timeline for grief or set stages. It is more like a roller coaster of emotions including shock, disbelief, denial, anger, sadness and guilt.”

“It takes time to fully absorb the impact of a major loss. You never stop missing your loved one, but the pain eases after time and allows you to go on with life,” she adds. “You may be surprised by the intensity and duration of your emotions and how quickly your moods can change. These are healthy and appropriate feelings and they can actually help you come to terms with your loss.”

Grief can lead to clinical depression with symptoms such as worry, sleeplessness, lack of appetite, difficulties concentrating, sadness, anxiety and/or an inability to function. If symptoms don’t improve over time, get help.
Some ways to help you cope with grief include:

Hang on to family rituals and celebrate the life, not the loss.

Find relatives and friends who understand your feelings of loss, or join a support group with others who are experiencing similar losses.

Tell others how you are feeling; it helps you work through the grieving process.

Take care of your health, eat well, exercise and get plenty of rest.

Be aware of the danger of developing a dependence on medication or alcohol to deal with grief.

If possible, postpone major life changes such as moving, remarrying, changing jobs or having a baby.

If your grief seems too much to bear or if symptoms of depression don’t subside, talk with your doctor.

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