Holiday Grief

Michelle Meyer, LCSW
Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital Home Health/Hospice
1200 Westwood Drive
Hamilton, MT 59840

The holiday glow is upon us, lights are beginning to adorn homes in the neighborhood, the hustle and bustle of shopping and holiday gatherings are evident almost everywhere. As we approach the holiday season, it is important to take a moment to remember that while many of us are eagerly awaiting the lights, turkey and family togetherness; some in our community are struggling through the loss of a loved one. Holidays can often be a stark reminder of memories of loved ones that have passed on and a void that is often hard to fill and even harder to articulate to others that are basking in the seasonal glory. As you make your holiday to do list, take a moment either to place a loved one or a neighbor on your list to remember and include this holiday season.

Holidays are often full of family gatherings and celebrations during the cold, dark winter that is beginning to wrap its arms around western Montana. These celebrations are often how we find solace and comfort but what happens when those times that are meant to improve our mood are instead a reminder of a brighter yesteryear? One of the most moving expressions of grief was stated to be all the love that we have for someone that has no place to go, it wells up in our chest and in the corners of our eyes. Grief comes in many shapes, sizes, frequencies and durations. There is no roadmap that depicts exactly how grief will manifest in each person. The longing for and the memories of those we have lost can be intense, constant or come in waves. It is this that can make the season of family gatherings and community togetherness all the more difficult for some people. Here are a few helpful ideas to assist those that are struggling with grief during the holiday season.

First, allow for the expression of grace and understanding this holiday season. Grace is the kindness that we allow for acceptance and understanding in others, with or without earning this virtue. Grace is the virtue of allowing for others to grieve in their own unique way without passing judgement. We show grace by listening, supporting and validating. We show ourselves grace by allowing ourselves to feelings from the start to the end without stifling. We often rush those that grieve ‘out loud’ and encourage them to move forward when in fact this is their means of experiencing the loss. By offering those in our life grace we give a priceless gift. The gift that can mean so much in a time that can be very lonely and stifling for those we care about. Just as we offer it to others we can offer it to ourselves as well.

Second, consider the importance of ‘setting the table for others’. Invite loved ones or neighbors to join you and your family in holiday celebration. Impromptu dinners during the week or drives to look at Christmas lights are great times to include others. We often think of the importance of donating during the season, but these gestures cost little and can mean so much to those around us. While some will be glad to join, others may feel that this is not what they would like to engage in and it is important to know the value in offering even when these offers are not taken. Allow for space to decline while remembering the importance of that by setting the table we are extending an invitation to express our support for others.

Third, start a new tradition to honor your loved one such as, lighting an honorary candle at a celebration, have a special picture set out as a memorial to your loved one during family events, create a photo book, write a poem, or enjoy a memory sharing session with a loved one. Enjoy a loved one’s favorite holiday dish. Invite grandkids or children to join in the making of the dish and remembering your loved one with stories as you work together to create the dish. This can be a very positive memory for those around you and a way for you to connect with the memory of your loved one. Journals can be incredibly useful if you find that talking about your feelings can be too difficult. Journals can offer the writer an opportunity to explore the depths of complicated grief, the holidays and the things that some of us are too worried about expressing out loud to another.

Most importantly take care of yourself. In the rush of the season, we find ourselves often overcommitting of time and talent. We cannot fill from an empty cup. Take a walk, enjoy some outdoor time if tolerable and feel free to work on the importance of self-care. Though it may be difficult initially to consider meeting with a counselor, it might be the opportune time to establish a relationship with a trusted professional that can offer support and validation during these difficult times. The support of a third party outside of friends and family can be invaluable and offer a much needed sounding board to process feelings that may be too complex to share with loved ones. It truly could be the greatest gift you could give to yourself this holiday season.

So as the trees begin to appear in windows, take a moment to think of those that may need some extra support this year. If that person is you, remember to ask for help. One of the greatest gifts of living in Montana is the friendliness of neighbors and the comradery of community. May the gift of grace be yours this holiday season.

Join us at the Marcus Daly Hospice Tree of Lights on Thursday, December 7th at 5pm at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital in conference rooms Blodgett and Canyon View. Take this opportunity to reflect and remember those we love during this special season. Enjoy homemade soup, bread and treats followed by a remembrance ceremony and the lighting of the hospice holiday tree!

Questions and or comments regarding this week’s health column please contact, Michelle Meyer, LCSW at Marcus Daly Hospice Center and Services, a service of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, 1200 Westwood Drive, Hamilton, MT 59840. Working together to build a healthier community!

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