The holiday season is a time of joy, gratitude, and togetherness. For families of the missing, it can also be a time of immeasurable grief. Whether a loved one has been missing for a day or years, holiday traditions can be a painful reminder of their absence.
Neither grief nor healing are a linear process. Individuals and families will approach the grieving process differently. Common symptoms are similar to major depression: frequent crying, disrupted sleep cycles, loss of appetite, and isolation. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it may be a sign that it is time for self-care. WMPA gathered tips from physical and mental healthcare providers to work through grieving over the holidays.
1. Boundaries. You are not required to attend everything you are invited to. It is okay to miss some gatherings or events to preserve your well-being.
2. Change Your Routines or Create New Traditions. Do you normally host? Maybe the holiday happens at someone else’s home. In charge of preparing a meal? Maybe the family goes out to eat instead. The current tradition no longer serves you and you’d rather head somewhere warm and rest? Do it! There are no rules. You are able to do whatever soothes your soul.
3. Honor Your Loved One. If you cannot have their physical presence, maybe they can be there in other ways. Maybe you light a candle. Maybe their photo is out at the dinner table. Maybe you make a donation in their name. Maybe you incorporate their favorite game or hobby into the holiday. Whatever makes you feel connected to them and reminds you that they may be gone, but they are not forgotten.
4. Help Others. Even when you feel so much has been taken from you, you still have so much to give back to the world. Acts of kindness can help lift the spirit. Donating money or goods or volunteering your time may be helpful.
5. Feel Your Feelings. This stuff is hard. Any emotion you feel over this season is valid – do your best to accept it. Laughter, profound sadness, joy, and anger are all completely normal. Do your best to honor yourself and wherever you are in the moment.
If you need some extra support over this season, you are not alone. You can contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357). If you’re a text person, you can text HOME to 741741
Sources: Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201512/how-deal-grief-during-the-holidays Harvard Medical School: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/coping-with-grief-and-loss-during-the-holidays-201112244028 AARP: https://www.aarp.org/home-family/friends-family/info-2020/grief-loss-during-holidays.html Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/grief-and-loss-throughout-the-holiday-season