By Anne Powers

I sat at the kitchen counter the Monday before Thanksgiving editing my Christmas card addresses. That’s when it hit me: Granny Stubbins would no longer be on my list. A long-time member of Muirs’ Chapel Church of Greensboro, she spent her final years in Aiken, SC with her daughter’s family. When Marguerite Stubbins died at 94 years old, she was in poor health—and we all knew she would be happier in Heaven with her husband who passed away 25 years ago.

Her heavenly good fortune doesn’t lessen how much I miss her, though. Grief—and the many different emotions that accompany it—pops up when I least expect it. I missed my Grandmother and the holidays were going to bring up memory after memory of what she did to make them special. Until I got married, we spent every Thanksgiving with my Granny—complete with cranberry crunch casserole, sweet potato souffle’, tea time tassies (mini pecan pies), and apple dumplings. I asked myself, “How can I best honor her memory and manage my grief during the holidays?” Coupled with her death was the knowledge that many of my friends and close acquaintances have dealt with the loss of a parent this year. How can they best cope this holiday season—their first without one or both of their parents? How can I, as a friend, help them?

Here are some suggestions for coping with the holiday season from experts in the field of bereavement for those who have experienced the death of a loved one:

Plan ahead. Realize that the holidays may be particularly emotional times for you. Consider doing less this year and perhaps ensure that you surround yourself only with people you truly enjoy and who are understanding and compassionate.

Decide what you can and can’t comfortably handle and communicate your limitations to friends and family. If you’ve always prepared a big dinner or tradition, it might be helpful to ask someone else to manage it—or at least help with it—this year. Be up-front and let people know in advance so that they can make alternate plans or, perhaps, take over the tradition themselves.

Re-examine your priorities: Greeting Cards, Holiday Baking, Decorating, Christmas Shopping. Is it important that you send Christmas cards this year, or can you skip doing so this year or send them later? Can you purchase—rather than bake—holiday goodies or might you ask a friend who really wants to help to share some of hers? Can you do all your shopping on the internet or through a catalog so that you don’t have to fight potentially exhausting traffic and crowded stores with Christmas music playing? Or, would it be more meaningful to make donations to charitable organizations—especially to an organization that was special to the person who died—in lieu of gifts?

Try to get enough rest. Grief is deeply exhausting—physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and socially—so it is essential to get adequate rest.

Take care of yourself. Self-care often involves treating yourself to a pedicure, massage, a bubble bath, or spending time in a quiet corner at your favorite coffee shop. Exercise and eating well are also important aspects of self-care.

Consider making changes in traditions. You may find it helpful to start a new and different tradition this year because the old way is too painful without your cherished loved one. Do you need to open presents at a different time? Do you need to go to a mountain cabin to take in all the beautiful winter season has to offer? Do you need to try out your holiday dinner at a restaurant instead of at the home where family and friends are accustomed to gathering? It is important to remember, too, that some people find comfort in maintaining traditions—and may prefer to keep traditions “the same as they’ve always been.” Visit these TMoM blogs: “Ways to Remember and Honor Loved Ones Who Passed Away” as well as “The Best Gift of the Season” for more ideas.

Don’t isolate yourself. It’s often important to take time for yourself, while also refraining from the desire to cut yourself off from the support of your family and friends. Maintaining a balance between time alone and time with supportive people is essential.

While the holidays are meant to be joyous, know that after a significant death, you may not feel happy at all. That is natural and to be expected. Give yourself care and compassion and know that, while different, the holidays will be a happier time once again…even if they don’t feel joyous or happy this year.

Blessings and peace to each one of you who may be feeling the pain of missing a loved one. I welcome hearing any other ideas that offered you and your family comfort.

The above suggestions were compiled from the following website: and Hospice of the Piedmont. Special thanks also goes to Donna Hampton of Hospice Grief Counseling Services who helped with this article.

~ For more helpful blogs related to grief, visit the Bereavement section of the TMoM site HERE.
~ Find local grief and bereavement support groups HERE.
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