Grief Through The Holidays

By Kirsten Kaae


In the turbulent wake following the death of a loved one, “firsts” of all kinds feel strange and unwanted. The holidays with their call for good cheer are probably the most dreaded ones of all. There is no time of year more fraught with expectations that are steeped in shared memories, habits, and traditions. This is precisely what makes holidays so difficult after a loss.

Some Ideas That Might Help

Take Care Of Yourself. We all know the “get plenty of…” litany that comes down to regular refueling, most importantly food and rest. Eating regular, balanced meals or snacks does help to maintain energy and reduce stress. Start the day with a protein rich breakfast, and carry snacks with fats and proteins when you’re on the go. Take naps, and go to bed early. Taking care of the body helps to preserve one’s sanity.

Say No. Well-meaning friends often have ideas about what a grieving person needs. But no one but you really knows how you feel or what you need. Know that you don’t have to take care of other people’s needs to take care of you! Thank them, but do only what you truly want to do.

Honor Your Fatigue. Prolonged fatigue is a normal part of grief, and emotions take a toll. The emotional fatigue that comes with grief lasts far beyond the physical exhaustion felt during the time surrounding a death. Take this into consideration when making holiday plans.

Include The Children. If there are children in the family, they too need to express and share their grief. Children who feel included and respected adapt more readily to change, so make decisions about the holidays together. If the children need more than you can give, it’s okay to give yourself permission to call on family and friends to step in when you need a break.

Get Away. Getting out of town for awhile can also ease the intensity of the season. This works well for some families. Others say that, for them, getting away merely postpones that first holiday at home. Let go of the “should” in either direction, and make the choices that feel right for you.

Let Traditions Evolve. Traditions change over time, and there is no need to rush to establish new ones when reeling from a loss. What emerges over the years will be a blend of old and new. Treasure the old; experiment with the new. Keep traditions that bring joy, and let the rest fade.

Make Time For Grief. It takes time to treasure memories, share them with others, embrace their sweetness, and sit with one’s tears. Setting aside time to remember, to reflect, and to grieve eases the heart and makes room for moments of joy. If you honor the need to grieve, there will be fewer unbidden moments of sadness.

There are no rights or wrongs when dealing with grief. Give yourself permission to be exactly where you are in your journey through grief. You didn’t get where you are in life without already learning some coping skills. If you know you cope best by staying busy, do so. If you need to pull inside, be quiet, and hibernate for a time, then honor that need. Make the choices that will help you through all of your holidays with the greatest sense of peace.


kirstenwebsiteheadshot1.jpg1Kirsten Kaae, RN, BSN, LPC, M. Ed. has been serving the needs of the terminally ill and their families since 1987 when she started her career as a hospice nurse. Ms. Kaae has pursued extensive post graduate work in child and family therapy and rehabilitation. She holds dual licensures as a registered nurse and as a licensed professional counselor. She is a regular guest lecturer at Texas Woman’s University and University of North Texas, and is frequently called on to speak on a variety of topics relating to her fields of expertise.

For more information and resources, go to Kirsten Kaae’s website: It’s About TIME: Straight Talk About Aging and End of Life at www.kirstenkaae.com.

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