Tips for coping with grief during the holidays

For those who\'ve lost a loved one, the holidays can hit like an emotional tidal wave. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON – This is supposed to be a joyful time of year, but for those who have lost a loved one, this time of year can hit like an emotional tidal wave.

“The holidays are a reminder for many of what they’ve lost … Because we remember all of those last moments together,” says Ami Neiberger-Miller with Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).

She knows first hand the emotional minefield this time of year can bring. Her brother was killed in action in 2007 and the last time she saw him was around Christmas.

She says it’s a natural tendency to pull away from a person who is grieving, which “actually creates more isolation for that person.”

“Continue to reach out, continue to invite them to gatherings and events,” Neiberger-Miller says.

TAPS has several suggestions for someone who is grieving a loved one during the holiday season:

  • Take charge of your holiday and map out how you will spend your time. This can help alleviate anxiety.
  • Make plans to spend the holidays somewhere you feel nurtured, emotionally safe and comfortable. Be flexible to respond to your emotions.
  • Find sustenance for your soul by turning to your faith community, which may offer services or resources.
  • Don’t be afraid to change your holiday traditions to eliminate those that may cause pain. Keep the ones that bring comfort.
  • Give a gift or a donation to a charity on behalf of the person you lost.
  • Create a tribute by lighting a candle or displaying a favorite photo.
  • Be gentle with yourself knowing that certain sights may trigger emotions.
  • Attend holidays functions if you can and prepare an escape plan, just in case.
  • Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. It does not make the pain go away.
  • Pay attention to your health by getting enough sleep and drinking lots of water.
  • Allow yourself to feel both joy and sadness.
  • Express your feelings through a poem, talking with a friend or creating a painting.
  • Share the season with someone else. Volunteer with a local charity.

WTOP’s Kathy Stewart contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.


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