Feelings of Grief May be Magnified During the Holidays

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Sponsored by Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center 

The holidays are often thought of as a joyful time of the year, filled with the sights, sounds, and flavors of the season. Yet for people struggling with the death of a family member or other loved one, the holidays can be a difficult time.  Messages that ring out tidings of comfort and joy do anything but when a person is struggling with loss. 

Whether it is Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, or another special time of observance, the season may bring many reminders of the loss in your life. And it may not just be recent losses. During the holidays, feelings of grief can seem fresh, even if a loved one died years ago.  

At a time of year when many people feel compelled to follow holiday traditions, letting yourself do something different can be helpful. Some people find it comforting to be with family and friends, emphasizing the familiar. Others may wish to avoid old traditions and try something new.  

Sentara Health offers suggestions for coping with grief during the holidays:  

Plan for the approaching holidays.

Recognize that the holidays might be a difficult time for you. The stress of the season may affect you emotionally, mentally, and physically. This is a normal reaction. Be prepared and gentle with yourself. 

Recognize that the holidays will not be the same.

Expecting everything to seem the same might lead to disappointment. Doing things differently acknowledges the change in your life but still offers continuity with the past. 

Be careful not to isolate yourself.

It is important to take quiet, reflective time for yourself but also allow yourself the support offered by friends and family. If you cannot be together in person, telephone calls, Zoom, Facetime, or Skype calls can be a way to stay in touch. 

The holidays may affect other family members.

Talk over your plans and share your feelings. Respect other’s choices and needs. 

Avoid additional stress.

Decide what you really want to do during the holiday season and give yourself permission to avoid things you don’t want to do.  

Be willing to listen to a friend who is grieving.

Active listening from friends and family is an important step to helping some cope with grief and heal. And never tell someone that he or she should get “over it;” instead, give the person hope that, eventually, he or she will enjoy the holidays again.

Follow up after the holidays to check in. 

Given the activity of the season, some people may make it through the holidays without any concerns, but they might find the post-holiday period to be more difficult. Checking in with some who is grieving after the holidays to see how he or she may be doing is helpful. 

The holidays are also difficult for people coping with serious illness. Some of the advice Sentara offers to those grieving is applicable to those facing challenging medical situations. Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center’s Cancer Support Network is offering a Facebook Live chat, “Coping with Loss & Change During the Holidays,” on Wednesday, Dec. 20 at 12 p.m. Visit the SNVMC Facebook page at Facebook.com/SentaraNorthernVirginia and find information on this live chat under the Events tab.

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