Grief During the Holidays
By Danielle J. Johnson, MD, FAPA
Lindner Center of HOPE, Chief Medical Officer
Many people have experienced loss of several types during the COVID-19 pandemic – employment, financial security, social connections, a sense of safety, and loved ones. The way we grieve has changed because we cannot rely on our support systems to be physically there for us due to restrictions with social distancing. With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, the holiday season will be different this year – no holiday parties, large family gatherings, or other traditions. It is difficult to be physically separated from loved ones, but even more difficult for those who may be experiencing their first holiday season after the loss of a loved one.
What are some ways that we can manage grief during this unprecedented holiday season?
- Take charge of your holiday season: Anticipating anxiety about the holiday, especially if it is the first one without a loved one, can be worse than the actual holiday. Taking control of your plans and deciding how you will spend your time can relieve anxiety. Do not spend time where you do not feel emotionally safe or comfortable.
- Find nourishment for the soul: Your faith community may offer resources. Look for a support group for people who have suffered a similar loss or for those who are alone. Due to the pandemic, many support groups are online.
- Give yourself permission to change your holiday traditions: Some traditions may be a comfort, while others may be painful. Some traditions will have to change due to the pandemic. It is ok to start new traditions. Many families are finding ways to celebrate virtually.
- Change how you give: Give a gift on behalf of your loved one to someone else or donate to a charity in memory of your loved one. If you are spending less due to not spending the holidays with loved ones, consider giving more to charitable organizations.
- Do not let guilt overtake you: You can enjoy the holiday without your loved one. Celebrating does not mean you do not miss or have forgotten about your loved one.
- Be gentle with yourself: Realize that familiar traditions, sights, smells and even tastes, may be comforting, or may trigger strong emotions. Be careful with your emotions and listen to yourself.
- Do not pretend you have not experienced a loss: Imagining that nothing has happened does not make the pain of losing a loved one go away or make the holidays easier to withstand. It is ok to talk with others about what you have lost and what the holidays mean to you.
- Pay attention to your health: It is often difficult for people who have experienced a recent loss to sleep. Make sure you get regular rest. If you feel overwhelmed, talk with your health care provider.
- Experience both joy and sadness: Give yourself permission to feel happiness and pain. Do not feel like you must be a certain way because of your loss or because it is the holidays.
- Express your feelings: Suppressing your feelings may add to distress. To express your feelings, talk with a supportive friend or journal.
- How can support persons help those who are grieving during this holidays season if we cannot physically be there? Be available to listen. Send cards, gift cards for meals, offer to help shop, or decorate the outside of the home. If you are concerned about their mental wellbeing, offer to help them find a support group or encourage them to reach out to their health care provider for help.
Crisis Text Line, text CONNECT to 741741 for 24/7 help from a crisis counselor.
Ohio Care Line, call 1-800-720-9616 for 24/7 support from behavioral health professionals.