Dealing with grief and depression during the holiday season

People think of the holidays as being sentimental, romantic, nostalgic, and strong images of families. But for those who have lost a loved one, those images, memories and expectations makes it more evident of what we do not have this year during the holiday season and what we have lost. Sharp Hospice Care Supervisor of Social Services Laura Grayson said this can be extremely debilitating for those who have lost a loved one because they are experiencing sadness and loss rather than the joy that is expected during the holidays. “They carry this pain or this burden because they do not have what the holidays are representing,” she said. “There is also another component which is a lot of uncertainty, many question that come into play this time of year. You have societal expectations of what it is supposed to mean to have the holidays, then you have questions with people who have lost a loved one on how I am going to survive this without my loved one being here?” Grayson said the questions range from, “how can I celebrate, how can I feel joy, when so much of my heart is breaking.” She said for those who have someone in bereavement, it is up to family and friends to help them by looking at how to survive the holidays, how to create special memories, get appropriate gifts, coping strategies, and realize that this year is not going to be the same as next year, and different the following year. “Time truly does influence how we are responding to the holidays during a time of grief,” she said. Grayson said it is important to give yourself permission to feel the loss, feel your feelings. She said the feelings of grief, anger, fear, anxiety does not disappear because there is a holiday on the calendar and that holidays do not make the human experience of loss disappear. “Do not let the expectations of the holidays pass judgement on yourself,” she said. “If you are experiencing joy, love, tenderness, you give yourself permission to feel that as well. Allow the grieving to continue regardless of the time of year you are in.” Grayson said the other thing people experience with depression or any other challenges with grief is turning to other people for support. “This is not a time to be alone,” she said. “Grief is a person’s individual response, and mourning is the public display and support you get to the loss. It is through mourning that we heal. It is extremely important to remind people in grief that you need other people and need to have a support system in place. You need to find somebody who is able to meet your needs.” Grayson said that means someone who listens, someone who does not judge your grief, and that these support people might not be the ones that you expect. So, a person in grief needs to expand their resources to find the person or persons who can meet those individual needs and support them in different ways. Grayson said what makes a large difference is being able to take charge where you can. “This time in our life, so many things are out of control. We feel out of control. We feel things are happening to us. In looking at the holidays, we want to look at things that we can make decisions about, what traditions and rituals we can have some control over, and how is that going to make you feel better and not as depressed,” she said. “Look at what traditions are important to keep this year even though your loved one is gone. Then look on how you can make that tradition continue.” Grayson said perhaps, some may feel that some traditions may not be able continue without their presence, so then there is the choice of what you would like to do in place of that tradition. “What you are doing is thinking about the persona and the holiday, what their absence is going t mean, and how you are going to make choices to keep them present through tradition, or to make choices to do something different so it is not hurting or causing as much pain,” she said. Grayson said she had a very traditional family, the whole family would come over, her mother created an elaborate meal for everyone, then cleaned it all up while the rest of the family sat with full bellies. She said after her father died, not only did she not have the energy for that, but she also no longer had the desire for it. “All she could feel was the absence of my father,” she said. “We as a family sat down and talked to her and asked her what we she wanted to do for Thanksgiving. She said she just could not cook this year.” Grayson said she wanted the family around her for the holiday, so as a family, they chose to break tradition and turned that Thanksgiving into a potluck. “My mom wanted the tradition of family to continue, but she was not able to continue the tradition of her cooking,” she said. “So, we compromised. We did not all sit around with the fine china. We ate with paper plates and plastic utensils.” Grayson said that is what it means to take charge, really evaluate what is important and how to keep it going without it having to be the same. She said as much as change can hurt it can also be a tool for coping with grief. She said looking ahead and evaluating the most difficult parts of traditions is important, and then figuring out what you can and cannot do. She said for her mother, the most difficult situation was the family toast, which her husband did. So, they made a new tradition. Her mother made the choice and asked that the family toast be done by the oldest grandchild. “So, instead of waiting for that time and becoming uncomfortable, she made a decision about it ahead of time,” she said. Grayson said looking at what parts of a celebration are exceptionally emotional, look ahead at what you need for support, to get through it, and how you will handle it. “We have to remember there is a lot of unpredictability and how quickly things can change both in our grief response as well as how other people are responding to us,” she said. “You need to be flexible. You can have a really good plan in place and if things unfold differently, give yourself permission to change it up. Over and over again, it is about being gentle with yourself. Recognize the extreme strain that bereavement can cause. How overloaded you can feel over the simplest of problems and commitments. Give yourself permission to decline invitations. Only accept invitations that are supportive. Let people know that you do not have the energy this year but tell them to keep inviting you because you know the energy will return some day.” Grayson said it can be hard for some people to give themselves grace and allow them to say no when expectations are being placed on them. “But that is one of the best things anyone who is experiencing depression can do,” she said. “Evaluate what you are capable of right now, and give yourself permission to take care of yourself, even if it means disappointing someone else,” she said.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here