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Managing Grief around the Holidays

The holidays are full of memories and traditions centered on family and friends. Unfortunately for some, the holidays might be a reminder that their loved ones are not here. Navigating grief can be a difficult journey for many people, but events that gravitate towards gatherings and traditions might be a trigger of that loss.

Grief is a natural response to the loss of people, animals, and other things that might be important to you. Experiencing grief is a challenging yet individual process that goes through a sequence of stages. There are several different grief models available, but the majority of people are familiar with five stages. No matter the model, each one begins with sadness and ends with acceptance.

“Grief is different for everyone,” says Kala Hight, LPC-MHSP Therapist at Centerstone, “Most people do not go through the stages of grief in a specific order. There is also the possibility of re-experiencing stages of grief when triggered by memories of the loss.” It’s important not to assign yourself a timeline when dealing with loss and grief. There’s not a right or wrong way to grieve but rather healthy and unhealthy behaviors. Some unhealthy coping mechanisms might be an increased intake of drugs and alcohol, and some healthy ways might be seeking help from therapy, friends, or family.

The grieving process can feel heavy, so it might be helpful to know how to support someone or yourself if you are finding yourself getting triggered during the holidays. Here are some ways you can help others and remember your loved ones:

  • Acknowledgment. “Take the time to acknowledge and experience your loss, and know that you are trying to observe yourself as you manage to get through it,” says Hight. Acknowledge and understand that grief is an ongoing process—don’t put a timeline on your healing.
  • Fulfillment. When supporting someone who is grieving, it is important to know that you cannot grieve for them. The best way you can offer support is by fulfilling their needs that are not being met, such as grocery shopping, listening to them speak about their loved ones, providing meals for them, and more.
  • Noticing triggers. The holidays are often a big trigger for those that are grieving due to family gatherings and traditions—it’s a reminder that our loved ones are no longer with us. Despite the holidays, there are other triggers that might also set you back. Some triggers for grief are very individual to each person and can be things like songs, photos, smells, and more. It is important to know what your triggers are to better understand when you might want to reach out to your loved ones while you are feeling triggered.
  • Processing. “One of the best things for the healing process is to avoid timelines and give yourself space,” says Hight. There are several uncomfortable emotions and feelings associated with grief, but allowing yourself the space to feel is how you begin to move forward and heal.
  • Memorialize. Losing someone or something special to you is hard to go through, and there are days or things that might remind you that they aren’t here with you. It is important to celebrate their life in meaningful ways. Honor their memory by writing letters to them, framing photos or special ornaments, decorating graves, or even letting go of balloons to show that you are still thinking about them.

The holidays can be a time to cherish your loved one’s memory and explore new ways to share their legacy with friends and family. Know that your grieving process is unique, and you are not alone in it.

If you or someone you know is struggling to move forward with their grief, Centerstone can help. Call 1-877-HOPE123 (1-877-467-3123) for more information.

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