6 Ideas to Help You Cope with Grief at Thanksgiving November 21, 2023

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6 Ideas to Help You Cope with Grief at Thanksgiving

No matter when a death occurs, holidays are particularly difficult to navigate. Holiday memories of past joys are particularly cutting when we are currently grieving.

I was reminded of this when I saw a Today Show segment with Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb in 2015. It was right before Thanksgiving, and Kathie Lee, who had just lost her beloved husband of 29 years, pro football hall of famer Frank Gifford, talked about how this holiday season would be “bittersweet without him.” I thought to myself, “That’s putting it mildly.” But she was on TV, and, despite the gaping hole in her heart, the show must go on, and she must keep her composure. I wouldn’t have blamed Kathie Lee if she had said, “This holiday season, I just want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head.”

It doesn’t matter if our loved ones have been gone just a few months, as in Kathie Lee’s case, a year or many years, the holidays have a way of hitting us where we are already hurt. We find ourselves in a paradoxical universe where we’re supposed to be happy, even downright joyful, but instead, we feel tremendous sadness and loss. While there is no “right” way to deal with loss and grief during the holidays, here are six ideas that might help you cope this Thanksgiving.

1. Find an Ally

If you’ve experienced a rather recent loss, you’re just not going to be in the mood to celebrate with friends and family. Yet many will tell you it helps to be around people who love and care about you. And in some respects, it may help. But what won’t help is holding your true emotions inside and putting on a brave face to not be a “downer” to all the other holiday revelers.

This is why you’ve got to have an ally, someone who knows exactly how you’re feeling and that your insides do not in any way, shape, or form match your cheery demeanor. Choose someone you really trust to whom you can express your truth and vulnerability. Doing so may mean you will feel less isolated during the next month, filled with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.

2. Need When You Need to Leave

Even when you’re not grieving the loss of a loved one, it’s an awful feeling to be stuck at a party or event because someone else drove you. Add to this awfulness a broken heart, and it’s perfectly unbearable. If you do decide to be social and attend holiday parties and get-togethers, drive yourself or bring a local car service number so you can leave when you need to without being disruptive.

3. Create New Traditions

“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” Anne Roiphe

Grief may be in two parts, but when a loved one dies, our heart finds itself in three parts. Part of it also wants to die, part wants to live, but in the past, and part wants to believe with all of its heart that it will feel joy and love again.  To feed this last part, you may want to try to create new traditions this holiday to remember and honor your loved one. This is a great way to move into life again and help other loved ones talk about the deceased. For instance, invite people to decorate your tree with their favorite photo of your loved one, and as each person places their photo on the tree, they can share a memory of your loved one.

4. Find a Grief Group

Your friends and family may love and care about you very much, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they know exactly what you’re going through. This is especially true for parents who have lost a child or younger people who have suddenly lost their spouse. Finding a support group of people who understand your feelings can help you feel less alone this holiday season.

5. Volunteer

Being of service and making others feel good when you feel so bad naturally makes you feel better. This holiday, consider volunteering at an animal shelter, soup kitchen, or hospital. Being an important part of a solution for someone who is also struggling during the holidays can ease the symptoms of depression.

6. Focus on Self-Care (and Cry if You Need to)

Practicing self-care during the holidays is important for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. While you may naturally want to drink in excess, eat “comfort” foods, or stay up all night crying and reliving the past, don’t. Instead, care for yourself and get enough rest, drink more water than alcohol, eat healthy, wholesome foods, and exercise when possible. Love yourself as your loved one would. Don’t put pressure on yourself to hold it all together. Expressing your sadness is healthy and may help others access their emotions. Let it out if you feel a cry coming on, even an ugly one.

Holidays are, without a doubt, some of the most painful days we experience after a loss. Your journey through them will be as individual as you are. All you can do is be gentle and kind to yourself and feel your sadness while being open to happiness.

by Jenna Bruce

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