The upcoming holiday season can be a challenging and difficult time for grieving children and their families. Grief can be a life altering experience and both adults and children can be vulnerable to the stress and social expectations that the holidays bring. The following suggestions come from bereaved children, adolescents and their families. Follow your intuition and utilize those that will help you better cope with the demands of the next few months, allowing you and your family to experience a meaningful holiday season.
Grieving people often describe physical fatigue and low motivation for activity, so choose the most important holiday traditions that still give comfort and meaning to your family. Take care of yourself and your children. Get good rest, eat healthily, exercise and resist the temptation to be caught up in a hectic schedule of meaningless activities. Talk to your children and teens; find out what holiday celebrations they really enjoy. Be selective!
Make a Plan
Look ahead to where, how and with whom you will spend your family holidays. It’s okay to create some new traditions, i.e. taking a trip to a special setting and celebrating away from home. Do something that your deceased loved one really enjoyed and openly acknowledge that this ritual is in memory of her/him. You may want to send cards early, enclosing the funeral/memorial service program so that others are informed of your loss. It’s also okay not to send cards!
Be Open to Support
Allow others to help you with the holiday duties. Tell your relatives and friends that this is a stressful time for you and enlist their help with decorating, cooking, and taking the children on holiday outings. Delegate, “divide and conquer” all that needs to be done so that you do not feel the whole burden of creating a picture perfect holiday for those you love.
Express Your Feelings
Make time to sit down with your children and teens to talk about what they will miss most about the absence of their loved one during this special time in your family life. It is normal to experience “grief triggers” during the holidays, where hearing a song, or smelling a certain food brings a rush of memories and emotions about the deceased. Don’t be afraid of the sadness, longing, emptiness, and even anger that may need to be verbalized. Remember, it takes much more energy to hold back grief memories and feelings than it does to own and express them. Sharing your concerns, feelings, and apprehensions as the holidays approach with a trusted friend can be amazingly freeing and therapeutic!
Be Creative with Your Children
Art making, writing, music, play – all these activities are healing for the heart and soul. Engage in drawing pictures with your children of their favorite holiday memory with the deceased. Make a special ornament to hang on the tree or doorway. Write a holiday letter to the deceased and place it in a meaningful spot in your home, i.e. wrapped as a present under the tree or rolled up and tied with a ribbon next to a beloved photo of the deceased. Create a “gratitude bowl”, writing down on slips of colorful paper all the memories about your deceased loved one for which you will always be thankful. Incorporate the bowl as a centerpiece at your holiday table and take time for each family member to choose a paper and read out loud the treasured memory.
Remember parents; you do not have to be, or more importantly give all things to your children. Simplify and know that it is okay to have fun even though you are grieving this important person!