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Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

Coping with Grief over the Holidays: Some Tips from an Expert


December 21, 2015, by Hannele Kivinen, Caregiver Exchange

For many caregivers, the holiday season can be a difficult time: they may be grieving for someone who has passed away, or grieving for someone who is still alive, but no longer the person they once knew. As the New Year approaches, they may be grieving for a future their loved one will never have, or for a future that they had once envisioned for themselves.
The holiday season is most often associated with joy, togetherness, and a healthy dose of stress: the stress to get every tradition just right, to make everyone’s holiday happy and picture-perfect. Sadness does not fit into the recognized pattern of the holidays. People don’t know what to do when grief sneaks into the mix.
“When our experience doesn’t match those [holiday] expectations, it creates a dissonance,” says Peggy Haymes, a licensed professional counsellor with a specialization in grief and depression. Haymes has been working with grief workshops for over ten years, and recently hosted a free online webinar on how to cope with feelings of grief over the holidays. View the video here. (Note: you’ll be asked to sign up for a free account with Crowdcast.)
The first step, and among the most difficult, is accepting that the holidays will be different after a loss. The year after her mother passed away, Haymes was determined to recreate the same Christmas Eve menu that her mother had traditionally prepared. She now realizes how much pain she created for herself by not accepting that the dinner would be different without her mother there, no matter what Haymes did. Letting go of that picture of how your holidays “should” look is part of acceptance.
Imagine that every year, every single member of your large, extended family always sits in the exact same seat at the table for your annual holiday dinner. Then one year, someone is gone. Do you all sit in your same chair and stare at the empty spot? “Some families switch the table around,” says Haymes. “Everyone sits somewhere different, because it’s going to be different anyway.” 
Because there are certain expectations that come with the holidays, people who are grieving tend to mask their feelings – they don’t want to burden anyone with their sadness. However, another important step in coping is to allow yourself your grief. “There are some folks who say, ‘I can’t do it this year.’ And that’s okay. There’s no law that says you have to celebrate.” Rent a cabin in the woods, head to the beach for a week, or simply spend your time devoted to doing things that may not be holiday-related: reach out and do some charity work, and channel your sadness into doing something nice for someone who needs it.
Watch the video now to hear more tips from Haymes, and best wishes for the holiday season to all of our readers from everyone here at Caregiver Exchange.