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Grieving during holidays

Q: After losing a loved one, the holidays are a difficult time. How can I get through this time?

While the holidays can create stress for most people, this time can be especially difficult for people struggling through the loss of a loved one, according to experts in the Heart of Virginia who specialize in bereavement and counseling.

Creating the time to grieve, to not get overwhelmed by the holiday activity and make time to remember your loved one, can make an enormous difference, New Century Hospice Chaplain the Rev. Amanda Hayes-Bowman said.

Hayes-Bowman said the pressure to feel cheerful and missing your loved one can be common during the holidays.

“There is often an expectation in our culture that this will be a time of joy,” Hayes-Bowman said. “It can be isolating to feel surrounded by cheerfulness when you are grieving. In addition, the holidays are often a time that families spend together and the absence of a loved one can be magnified.”

These feelings can be overwhelming, Hayes-Bowman said. She said pulling back or being selective about the activities one takes part in can be a solution.

“Allow yourself to let go of some of the expectations you may feel and communicate your needs to those around you,” Hayes-Bowman said. “If you don’t feel like decorating, baking or shopping, it is okay to scale back. It is okay to accept help offered by others or to ask for what you need. You may not want to accept every party or event invitation that you receive, but you may find that choosing some activities to participate in provides a welcome distraction.”

Hayes-Bowman also recommended creating new traditions if needed, or do things that can help bring back memories of the loved one, including eating food they might have enjoyed or hanging their favorite decorations.

“You may want to create a new ritual that helps you to feel connected to your loved one, such as eating one of their favorite foods, hanging a special ornament or lighting a candle in their honor,” Hayes-Bowman said.

When experiencing grief, taking care of oneself can be challenging, Hayes-Bowman said. Taking time to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep and avoid alcohol or too many sweets can help, she said.

She also noted that it is common to have moments in grief in unexpected places, such as a department store.

“It is also important to remember that grief does not have a set timeline,” Hayes-Bowman said. “While most people will start to feel better, you may still experience waves of grief even after you have been through several holiday seasons without your loved one. Although you will likely experience some sadness, fear or anger during this time, you may also be surprised to find some moments of joy. Sometimes people may feel guilty about having happy moments without their loved one, but it is important to remember that experiencing joy does not mean that you have forgotten about your loved one.”

She lastly noted that for some, volunteering for certain causes may help them find comfort in a difficult time.

“You may eventually find that your own experience of grief leads you to want to help others going through similar experiences, but be sure to take adequate time before engaging in such volunteer opportunities,” Hayes-Bowman said. “If your grief is still fresh, you can still find other settings to serve in, such as delivering food to needy families or helping elderly neighbors with home repairs. Whatever you do, you may find that helping others who are struggling around the holidays can help lift your own spirit and remind you that you are not alone.”

For more information or resources concerning bereavement, including grief counseling, contact Hayes-Bowman at New Century Hospice office at (434) 395-1042 or Centra Home Health and Hospice at (434) 200-6546.