“People coping with grief over the holidays should do whatever helps them to not feel so emotionally challenged,” said Haasl. Some of her suggestions include:
n Do not push yourself to reproduce the holiday. People might say, “It will never be Christmas without Dad.” But it will still be Christmas; it will just be different now. Free yourself to look at alternatives. If your loved one used to put up the Christmas tree, and you don’t think you can bear putting one up yourself, consider trimming a tree outside or putting up a poinsettia instead. You can always return to old traditions later, when your feelings of grief aren’t so overbearing. Or, consider starting a new tradition altogether, with the understanding that your life will never be the same without your loved one.
• Do not do things that make you feel worse. It may feel like you want to shut out the world and be alone during the holidays. However, surrounding yourself with family and friends (who may be coping with similar feelings of grief) can make your holidays brighter.
• Do things that lift you up. If you miss buying presents for your loved one, consider shopping for him or her and donating the gifts to a charity so your gift can bring someone else joy.
• Socialize and keep active by volunteering at a homeless shelter or food pantry.
• Donate money in memory of your loved one.
• Tell stories about your loved one to children or grandchildren. These things will help you remember and grieve in a positive way.
• Finally, be honest with yourself and your family. Staunchly pushing through the holidays may leave you feeling overwhelmed. “If you are sad about the holiday, tell someone. By sharing your feelings, you will open up the conversation for the entire family. No one expects to have a perfect Christmas after the family has suffered a loss,” said Haasl. But if you are honest with one another, you can help each other through.
“Faith,” said Haasl, “is (also) important for the healing process.” Many people find it difficult to go to church when they’re grieving. The space, the songs, the priest, etc., may remind them of the funeral service or of Masses they used to attend with the deceased. For those people, Haasl suggested switching to a different service time or sitting in a different pew. Nothing will make it all better, but small changes like these can help you to continue participating in the church as you heal.
Prayer is also a big component in healing. “Even if we can’t think of anything to say,” Haasl said, “we can sit with God and ask for peace. Prayer can help calm your spirit and enable you to go on with the day or rest enough to sleep at night.”
Haasl also had advice for those who don’t know how to approach someone who is grieving, especially in the church community. Give the grieving time and attention. Don’t be worried about saying the wrong things. “When you think about it,” said Haasl, “there’s not much you can do to give a person more sadness when they’ve lost their husband or wife of 50 years; but to give them company, to sing the songs, to exchange the sign of peace … all of these things mean a great deal to the grieving.”