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Living with loss in the holiday season

December 18, 2012

Living with loss in the holiday season

With so much focus on festivities and family at this time of year, it can be especially hard if you're dealing with loss. And loss can come in so many forms.

Maybe you have cancer, or another illness, and in quieter moments you might find yourself wondering how many more times you'll celebrate like this together.

Or you might be caring for a loved one who is ill, and imagining this could be the last holiday season you'll spend together. Or maybe this is the first year after someone close to you has died, and you don't know how you'll make it through.

You might feel a loss of some of your independence through an illness process. Or that you've lost touch with who you felt you used to be before grief or worry came into your life.

Living with loss can be like living with questions that just seem too hard to ask, or maybe have no answers.

So what can you do if this holiday season is a painful one for you and your loved ones?

In my work, I've listened to many people who faced some of these losses, and they've taught me about what worked for them. I'd like to share some of their ideas with you.

Keep things simple

Sometimes the idea of celebrating during a time like this can feel like a lot to handle. It might be helpful to plan a scaled-down version of your usual seasonal celebrations, so they don't tire you out. Whether it's because of physical changes you're going through or because of the tiredness that grief can bring, some activities might feel easier and more 'do-able' for you than others. Try to be gentle with yourself and respect the tough time you and your loved ones are going through. Perhaps you could plan a smaller event, or give yourself permission to only do what you feel you're able to on the day and not overextend yourself this year.

Talk with people if it feels right

You might feel unsure about whether to talk with other people about what you're going through. Maybe you don't want to 'burden' them with your loss or you might want to keep certain things private. Yet talking with people you trust can often help by just 'letting off some steam' about the whole situation. It also lets people know how you'd like to handle things and how you can support one another. And it helps to know you're not facing this alone. So you might choose to talk with trusted friends or family members, with a counsellor, or an online community of people going through a similar experience.

Allow space for your feelings

A whole range of emotions can come up at a time like this, and sometimes it's tempting to hide some of them or try to 'just get on with it' and pretend they're not there. Remember that no feeling has to be off-limits. There are no real rules about what you 'should' or 'shouldn't' be feeling. If you feel happy, even in the middle of a time of loss, then it's ok to feel it. And if you feel sorrow, even though others are happy, that's only natural, too. Sometimes just being aware of how you're feeling moment to moment and simply allowing space for that can help.

Revisit your rituals

You may find that some of your usual traditions don't seem quite right just now. Maybe you don't have the energy for them, or they've become painful reminders of your loss. It can be worth thinking about how you might do something new this year to reflect what you and your loved ones are going through. It might be as simple as lighting a candle for someone who has died, giving certain roles to different people this year or coming up with a new ritual to mark the importance of sharing this time together.

Remember the children

If you're celebrating with children this year, it's worth remembering that it's a special and perhaps difficult time for them, too. Think about how you can support them and help them find ways to share both their sadness and their joy - and how you can still create a beautiful and meaningful time together.

Living with loss, whatever form it takes, can be especially tough right now and can seem hard to cope with. I hope some of these ideas might help you find what works for you. Because after all, there's no 'right' way of coping with loss - it's just about finding the ways that feel right for you, and that support you and your loved ones best over this holiday season.

I wish you and the people you hold close a special time this year.