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Tips for Coping with Family Celebrations

Family celebrations can be difficult for a number of reasons:

  • Pictures are brought out and shared. If you want to, bring out your own if it feels right.
  • Hushed conversations - you may walk into a room that suddenly gets quiet. You suspect that others have been talking about you. This may not be true; we are very sensitive when we are grieving, and it is easy to come to the wrong conclusion. However, you can bring up the name of your loved one to let others know it is okay to talk about him/her.
  • It may be painful to attend a particular holiday function when your spouse has just died. If you find it too difficult to attend, say so and send your regrets. If you feel you must go, explain that you will be there but are not sure you will be able to stay. Make sure you have a friend who can leave with you. If possible, sit on the fringe of the function so you can slip out easily.

The following activities will help you keep your loved one part of the special occasion:

  • Allow some time to feel sad. Have a good cry if you need to.
  • Be careful with excessive use of alcohol or medications.
  • Try to keep on a routine. Eat as well as you can, get your rest, and keep up with your exercise program.
  • If you need some quiet time, take it.
  • Some people feel that a change of pace is more helpful than old familiar traditions. Do you want to do something entirely different, such as spend the holiday at the beach or in the mountains where you won't be so acutely reminded of your loved one's absence? Sometimes new traditions may develop.
  • Set priorities! Grief is exhausting; know that you may tire quickly and save your energy for the most important things.
  • If you aren't up to a large family affair, have a scaled-down event with a few close family members or friends.
  • Delegate! Let others share the workload by helping with decorations and preparing food.
  • Be prepared to receive correspondence from friends who have not heard of the death and may inquire about your loved one's health or activities.
  • If you are by yourself, volunteer to work that day, giving your co-workers the day off to be with their families.
  • Light a special candle to honor your loved one.
  • Special prayers can be said in memory of your loved one.
  • Look for a lecture or workshop on how to get through the holidays.
  • Again, know that the anticipation of a holiday or family event often may be more difficult than the actual day.
  • Give yourself something to look forward to after the holiday.
  • At a family gathering, place a decorated box or a basket near the door. As people arrive, ask them to write a memory on a piece of paper and leave it there. At some point during the day, read these memories. It can comfort you and encourage others to share their memories.
  • At dinner, make a toast to the person who has died and invite others to do the same.
  • During a quiet time, get out old magazines, paper, scissors, and glue, and invite people to make a collage by cutting out pictures and words that remind them of the person who has died. Even though people may hesitate to do this project, it is always a favorite.
  • Get out the box of old pictures and start looking at them. People will not be able to resist making comments and sharing stories.
  • This might be the time to share some personal belongings of your loved one with family and friends. Make sure people know you are going to do this ahead of time so there won't be an awkward silence. You might consider having a basket of gifts waiting for your family or friends-gifts from your loved one to each person.
  • A special table may be set and guests invited to bring in pictures or keepsakes. It will encourage people to talk and to share memories.

Holidays are high stressors under any circumstances. If you are feeling overwhelmed, call Partners EAP at 866-724-4EAP to talk, or have a family meeting to alter plans. You may be pleasantly surprised that the holidays turn out to be very special in spite of your concerns.


Originally published by American Hospice Foundation © 2002 and reprinted with permission from the American Hospice Foundation.  All Rights Reserved.
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This content was last modified on: 08/26/2008

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