Coping with grief or worry over the holiday season….

As Christmas, Hanukkah and other religious and secular festivals approach, we know it can be a difficult time for those experiencing cancer first hand or have a loved one going through it. Many of us associate events such as Christmas with seeing family and friends, parties and lots of eating and drinking. It is a time of celebration. Having to face difficult decisions, treatments and uncertainty, while the world around us is enjoying the festive season, can be very hard. Emotions— both joyful and tearful — can be heightened.

Cancer Research UK has some helpful advice regarding this:

There will also be extra demands on our energy and time. For some practical advice and ideas:

Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be particularly difficult during the holiday season

For some of us, this will be the first Christmas without a loved family member, and for others, yet another Christmas without them.

We all experience grief at various points in our life. But dealing with a loss can be particularly difficult during the holiday season. It’s a time when days are colder, darker and bleaker – and we’re meant to be cheering ourselves up with festive, family rituals. We can never predict our reaction to losing a loved-one, even when we knew it was coming. Our fluctuating emotions can seem nonsensical, and that in itself can feel unnerving. But there are ways to feel grounded and secure, and to find some solace during this period.

  • Give yourself some slack. The nature of human existence is that people get attached to others and when our attachments are broken, we hurt, we grieve. To be grieving is a natural response. One of the first things to think about is to recognize that it’s difficult. Some people resist, they think that they should be getting through it easily – but that’s not always the case. Holidays bring up so many memories, all the movies and commercials and this sense of it all make us feel like we’re meant to be having this perfect family experience. But something’s missing. We may feel like everyone around us is having this perfect experience and we’re not.
  • Some people find it helpful to plan ahead to do something meaningful, such as visiting a special place, being with friends and family, marking their absence in a significant way such as lighting a candle, listening to music, or seeking spiritual solace. We need to find our own way and do what’s right for us
  • We could honour the traditions of the person we lost. Some people feel like they need to embrace it more than ever, to recreate their loved-one’s traditions and talk about them. ‘After my mother died, I found I had to embrace the holidays. She loved Christmas. I did my best to make it as Christmassy as possible’.
  • We could skip the festivities this year. For some it’s too painful so they skip it. We could go to the Caribbean, or a yoga retreat, or to a country B&B. We could even stay at home, but skip the rituals. We could just decide we’re not going to try to make it this big perfect thing, we’re not going to put up all the decorations this year, it’s too much and too painful.
  • Do something charitable. Wherever we’re spending the holidays, doing something charitable can help us feel a sense of meaning. The people we love give our lives meaning. Nobody has a 100 percent positive relationship but those relationships give us a sense of meaning. Doing something meaningful, like volunteering, or collecting presents for under-privileged families, or making a cash donation in the name of our loved-one can make us feel better about our purpose in the world.
  • Decide whether you want to discuss your loved-one or not. Make a decision about how to talk about them. If we don’t feel up to discussing our loved one we can prepare our family and friends. Just tell them: “I don’t want to talk about it this year, I just want to get through the holidays”. On the flip side, if we really want to talk about them, there are ways to do that. We could share pictures of them, get close friends to share stories about them, make a meal that they loved, or listen to our loved one’s favourite music and bring them into the day that way.  It’s likely that this will create a tear or two – but that’s ok
  • Don’t close yourself off. Loss feels lonely, but even more so if we shut off contact with everyone. Contact with other relatives, close friends, colleagues, or even new acquaintances can help more than we realize.
  • Remember that this is not forever Christmas day lasts 24 hours – and for some of that we will be asleep.

Suggestions from Claire Bidwell Smith and R Benyamin Cirlan, grief therapists

 Wishing you a peaceful Christmas and New Year from all at the Macmillan Wellbeing Centre


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