Monday, December 17, 2018

10 Tips for Surviving the Holidays After a Loss

Our family is going through it's "firsts" this year without Grandma.  First birthday, first Thanksgiving, etc.  Dementia and Alzheimers is a little different because you have likely spent years saying your goodbyes and that emotional disconnect has probably already happened.  It doesn't necessarily make it easier, but it's easier than if someone died unexpectedly.  I read a lot of articles about grief both going through it right after her passing and again as we approached the holidays, I picked the things that stuck out the most for me that would bring me the most comfort.

1)  Make a family plan.

If you usually have a big family gathering, check in with everyone as soon as you would begin your normal planning.  Ask them how they feel about proceeding with the gathering.  Are they good to go and need that comfort of family?  Do they need a break this year?  Do they want to wait and see how they feel on the day?  (If so and it's a potluck situation, give them something that wouldn't be missed if they didn't come.  An extra dessert, extra beverages, etc.)  Don't assume that others are on the same page as you are with their grief.  We all grieve differently and trying to rush the grief, tell people it's "time to move on" or make them feel bad for seeming to be over it.   Be considerate of everyone's process.

2)  Create a memory box or stocking

Have pieces of paper for everyone to fill out their favorite memory of the person and put it in the box/stocking.  After the meal, have everyone share their memories,  It'll feel like they're still a part of the festivities.

3)  Get charitable

Donate to a charity that helps fund research if they passed from a disease or a charity you know they were a champion of while here.  Buy a gift you were going to buy for them and donate it to a charity.

4) Make their signature dish

If they were known for a dish as my grandma was known for her noodles, make it!  Don't be surprised if it doesn't turn out quite the same, they had that special love they put into it, but everyone will appreciate the effort.  If you can, do a practice run before the big day so you can work out the kinks,  If you hit it out of the park the first time, you can freeze that batch (if it's a dish that can be frozen without issue upon thawing) and then be ready to go with confidence.

5)  Support kids by making a memorial wreath

We did this when my grandpa passed away in the early 2000's.  My cousins were all tweens and teens, and I bought these wooden Christmas ornaments for Thanksgiving, and us grandkids and his daughters all decorated them and put them on the wreath.  I put a big bow on it and put it up at the cemetery.  His wife said it made her smile every time she saw it.  It made us all feel good to know that he'd have his grandkids love at his resting place.

6)  Be ready for all of the emotions

Even if it's been close to a year by the time the holidays roll around and you're adjusted back to a new normal, the holidays bring up lots of emotions.  You can be laughing about something they did one moment and ugly crying the next as the wave of loss washes over you.  Even if you're not particularly emotional, you should be prepared for others to be.  Bring some travel tissues and a shoulder to lean on.  Most of all, don't feel guilty if you're happy.  It is a holiday, and they would not want you to be sad on their account.  Say a silent prayer to them when you wake up and if you choose to be happy that day, do it in their honor.

7)  Have an "out"

If you're going to someone's house, make sure you drive yourself and don't offer to pick anyone up.  You need to have an exit strategy if things unexpectedly get overwhelming for you especially if you are prone to panic attacks.  There is no shame in leaving if you need to; the fact you even went in the first place is a big deal.  I got overwhelmed just being in my grandma's house while getting mail for her husband on vacation.  It was the first time I was there since she passed.  I'm glad I had that time to just be there with the Mr because it would've been awkward to have a holiday there and have that same emotion overcome me.  Grief is personal and if you're not a sharer, say your goodbyes and be done with it.  If others try to talk you out of it and get you to stay when you know you need to leave, remember "no" is a complete sentence.

8)  Accept invitations

If someone is going to a light show or a Christmas village or any yuletide event, resist the urge to say no if you're not feeling it in the moment.  If they asked a few days ahead, ask them if you can see how you feel that day because your initial thought is to say no but you don't want to regret their thoughtful invite.  It will convey you might be torn but don't want to miss out on the fun.  Obviously, if they have to buy tickets to something, that's different.  I know it can feel like we should curl up in a ball and hide for the whole month but still leave yourself open to living life.

9)  Do something new

Sometimes the traditions are too much if the person who passed was the "glue."  The first year is one of immense transition and if you need to skip the usual gathering, do it.  The holiday will never be the same, period.  Should you decide to do a low key day at home, go on a last minute trip, go to the movies or go to someone else's house that invited you for different energy, there is no shame in that.  You can come back and do the usual the following year if you want or start new traditions.  In doing something that is out of the ordinary for that day, it can help ease the transition year.

10)  Ask for help

Some of us aren't afraid to ask for help, others don't want to feel like a burden by admitting they aren't holding up well.  There is no shame in asking for help if you need it.  Whether it's therapy, asking a friend if they have some time to let you vent your feelings or if you need someone to help you decorate, get things done or make a dish.  Those people that said "let me know if you need anything"...take 'em up on it.  (Just remember their own plates are likely full so be flexible.)  On the flip side, if you know someone who has gone through a loss you might want to check in with them.  If you have the time, offer to bake some Christmas cookies this year or bring them a home-cooked meal.  Maybe they have Christmas cards they want to be sent out but haven't addressed.  Do they have last minute Christmas shopping they need to be done?  Get a list, and money if it's a few things in places you're already going to go.  Or you can sit down and shop with them online if they have lists for people but haven't been able to concentrate long enough to do it or whatever they may need.  Just remembering that it could be a difficult time regardless of how long ago it's been, goes a long way.

Share any tips that helped you get through your "firsts" without a loved one.

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  1. It comforts me to think of them as being there watching over us when we're in the midst of a holiday get-together. I guess that has been my way of coping with losing my Dad and others we've lost. I just like to think of them as never truly gone and I believe the little signs you get from time to time are proof of that.

  2. My mother in law lost her battle with Ovarian Cancer 7 years ago on Dec. 11th. That meant we had our "first" 2 weeks after she passed. Her death wasn't a surprise, but we thought she'd go home on Hospice and have at least a little longer. Looking back though, it was a blessing in disguise. If we had to lose her (obviously the first choice would be to not lose her) I think having what we knew would be a last Christmas with her would have been awful. Celebrating Christmas in the future would be much more difficult I think. As it was, we were still in shock from her death but were able to celebrate Christmas and honor her and miss her.


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