Honoring the holidays after a loss

Dwight Douglass, LCSW, psychosocial team leader for Suncoast Hospice

BY LASHANTE KEYS, Empath Health Community Partnership Specialist

PINELLAS COUNTY — The holidays are a time when many families come together and celebrate. After the passing of a loved one, these special days might not look the same.

Dwight Douglass, LCSW, psychosocial team leader for Suncoast Hospice, a member of Empath Health, offers strategies for honoring the holiday season, even if you don’t feel celebratory:

Make a plan for the day.

The first special day without a loved one often brings fear and thoughts of worst case scenarios. Like waiting in line for a rollercoaster, the anticipation can heighten feelings of anxiety.

“I like to tell folks to control the day so it doesn’t control you,” explained Douglass. “When negative thinking is trying to come in the door, you end up putting all your energy into keeping those thoughts out. It’s better to be proactive and have a plan.”

When creating that plan, think about the things you can do alone and the times when you feel like you want to be around people. It’s okay if you want to be alone the entire time, part of the time, or not at all.

Remember that grief is unpredictable. Your feelings might change when the day actually arrives.  You have a right to make changes when you need to.

Talk with your family about how to bring your loved one to the table.

Our loved ones live on through traditions. Whether it’s a special dish at Christmas Eve dinner or a routine for decorating the house, these acts keep the memory of those we have lost close to us. Keeping traditions alive isn’t living in the past, it is making new memories while remembering old ones.

“Think about the one tradition your loved one enjoyed the most and then think about what you like most,” said Douglass. “Find a way to honor these traditions, even if it is modified.”

For example, if decorating the house with lights was a central part of how your loved one celebrated but you aren’t feeling like putting them up, consider driving around to look at lights in your neighborhood or another part of town.

Every member of the family will be coping in their own way, in different stages of the grief process, with their own view of how things should be. Open and honest communication will help ensure each person finds a piece of the holiday that is important to them.

However plans may shift, next year will bring an opportunity to discuss what worked, what didn’t and when things might look more normal again.

Feel all of the feelings.

You’re entitled to having days where you feel a bit Grinch-y. You also have the right to do something just for fun. There is no right or wrong way to experience grief.

The holiday season can be overwhelming, so it’s okay to step away when you need to. Above all else allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come forward.

“When we bottle up our feelings, it can start to affect other areas of our life,” said Douglass. “Allowing ourselves to feel and turning those emotions into something productive is more beneficial in the long run.”

For more information about grief support services offered by Empath Health call us at (727) 467-7423 or visit SuncoastHospice.org/Grief.

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