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Dealing with Grief Over the Holidays

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenDecember 20, 2017
Dealing with Grief Over the Holidays

Going home for the holidays brings many visions to mind. From comfort food to conversations by the fireplace — spending quality time with loved ones for the holidays is something we cherish. Which is also why the holidays can be so hard if a loved one has recently been lost.

Since holidays are for being with those we love most, how are we expected to cope during this memory-provoking season if a loved one has recently passed? Whether you are an adult child who has lost a parent or a senior who has lost a partner, the holidays can now signify a depressing and often stressful experience. For many, the holidays magnify the loss and become the time of year that’s the hardest for grieving. This is precisely why the need for support, and often help, is necessary during the holidays.

Grief Over the Holidays

Read below to learn how confronting grief can help heal the pain, no matter the situation.

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Whether you have an aging parent who has lost a partner, or you are spending your first Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year without your parent, there are constructive ways to deal with grief during the holidays:

Seniors Who Have Lost Partners or Loved Ones

There are few things in life more likely to lead to depression than losing a spouse — especially for seniors in their twilight years, according to geriatric psychologist, Dr. Kernisan.

As numerous research studies have demonstrated, spousal bereavement is a major source of life stress that often leaves people vulnerable to depression, stress, even reduced life expectancy… the holidays can be especially challenging. It’s important to consult a doctor, geriatrician, geriatric psychologist or geriatric psychiatrist for help in evaluating, diagnosing and treating the problem.”

Dr. Kernisan adds that disengagement and change in behavior are big warning signs that something is off with your loved one, and are often prevalent during the holidays after a spouse is lost. It’s being aware that there is a problem that is more than grief that is important.

“All three mentions of the serenity prayer are very difficult for seniors. ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’ Family members are key to helping their loved ones tackle these concepts of aging and healthy living.”

Here are things to watch out for if your aging parent has lost a spouse:

  • Are there memory problems?
  • Are there new difficulties with mental tasks?
  • Does your loved one have frequent or sudden sadness?
  • Does your loved one have hopelessness?
  • Does your loved one suddenly seem or feel lonely?
  • Has there been a personality change?
  • Have there been mistakes with finances?
  • Have you noticed a difficulty in their learning new things?
  • Have you noticed problems in driving?
  • Is organization a problem?
  • Is there a lack of social or purposeful activities?
  • Is there a loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy?
  • Is there unusual spending of money?
  • Is your loved one experiencing excessive or unusual worrying?

When a spouse is lost, there is a huge risk of depression and senior isolation — that can lead to a plethora of problems — which is why it’s so important to get help. There are a few ways you can help your aging parent cope:

1. Celebrate the holiday in a new way.

  • Start a new celebration or tradition by going to a different venue or home
  • Try to create new memories, while continuing to honor the old in subtle ways, such as through decorating, meals or family traditions

2. Honor the lost loved one.

  • Create an online tribute for the loved one
  • Light a candle or say a prayer for your loved one
  • Share favorite stories about your loved one
  • Visit your place of worship, if applicable for your family’s belief system

3. Reach out to professionals for help, if necessary.

  • Whether you speak to a doctor, geriatrician, geriatric psychologist or geriatric psychiatrist, as Kernisan discusses, it’s important to talk to a professional if grief is not being handled well (or if you suspect there are underlying health issues that are a catalyst of the loss!)

If a senior loved one has lost a spouse, it may be a good time to think about or consider senior living. Senior living communities can provide daily activities, friendship and happiness during retirement years.

Adult Children Who Have Lost Parents

Just as seniors who have lost a spouse are at risk for heartache during the holidays, it’s only natural that adult children who have lost their parents may be suffering. Usually, parents are the hub of the holidays, and if dad or mom passed suddenly, there can be even more emotions involved, such as psychological trauma or shock.

Grief counselors agree that trying to ignore the recent death of a parent only creates more problems. It is much healthier to acknowledge the loss and either go ahead with family rituals, honoring the loved one who passed, or start new traditions, while still respectfully acknowledging the old ones. A loving parent would want the celebrations to continue, which is also important to keep in mind.

As with the seniors who have lost spouses, there are ways to cope with this heart-wrenching grief:

1. Celebrate the holiday in a new way.

  • As with seniors who have lost their spouse, attending a celebration at a different venue or home could help, while continuing to honor old traditions through decorating, meals and family nuances
  • Create new memories and traditions while it may be too painful to do regular family traditions

2. Honor the lost loved one.

  • Create a memory book to document and honor their life, accomplishments and heritage
  • Create an online tribute
  • Memorialize your parent through donations in their name or volunteering for their favorite organizations
  • Practice spiritual beliefs that speak to you, whether it’s through prayer or visiting a place of worship
  • Share favorite stories about your loved one

3. Join a support group.

  • Talking to people who have experienced similar loss can be helpful as a support group offers understanding, empathy and advice from people in a similar situation

Overcoming grief and loneliness are challenges that many people face when they lose a loved one, but whether they are able to move on afterward depends on their own inner resources as well as the support they receive from friends and family. For those who are having a particularly hard time coping, Dr. Kernisan suggests counseling and medical treatment to get their life back on track.

Have you recently lost a loved one? What has helped you get through the holidays? We’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

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Dana Larsen
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Dana Larsen

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