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Home > Help For The Holidays: Coping Strategies For The Tough Times

Help for the Holidays - coping strategies for the tough times

By Walter Mikac
Resources – Circle of Life - replacing hardship with love, by Walter Mikac, published Pan Macmillan, 1999.

DEALING with bereavement grief is one of the hardest things we humans have to confront. Complicate that grief with trauma or murder. Compound that with the fact that most of the population wants to celebrate, drink & be merry at holiday time and you potentially have a recipe for disaster.

Surviving and hopefully even enjoying the festive season requires careful planning.

I learned this lesson the hard way. Each year since the death of my then wife and two daughters in 1996, there has been birthdays and holiday periods that always pose a myriad of questions.

Where will I go?
Who will I have around me?
What happens if something triggers a fresh wave of emotions and re-ignites that rollercoaster of feelings & memories?

How long will it take before these sensations will subside to a bearable level?

A trap many bereaved fall into is becoming overly concerning with the expectations of family and friends. Usually this will add to the pressure of what is already a difficult period to negotiate. Parents for instance, may have an expectation that you will be spending Christmas/New Year with them. Sometimes the generational difference creates opposing views and philosophies. For example, many people think that going to the cemetery on significant days is what SHOULD be done. For some this will be a source of great comfort. For others, it may be the last place they wish to be. It is essential on these days that each person does what is most comfortable for them, without fear of  judgement or the expectations of others. The most important lesson in coping with all consuming grief is to do what is right for YOU- the individual. Trying to please those around you is a sure fire way to descend into feelings of alienation and anger. It can create resentment and conflict that leaves everyone unhappy. If you want to have time alone to reflect, reminisce & maybe cry then do so. If it feels natural to have many friends around then so be it. DO WHAT GETS YOU THROUGH THE TOUGH MOMENTS.

The other internal conflict that arises at holiday time is that you used to feel happy & joyous at this time of the year. Now you feel sad and angry which in turn adds another dimension to the loss. The question that inevitably will ring in your head is “Why me? Why did that happen to MY loved one?” Disbelief that this situation could occur will weave with memories what you might be doing now had they not died. The rollercoaster of grief can leave you nauseous and at these times it is hard to know what will make it pass as comfortably as possible. Here are some of the strategies that  may be useful.

  • Make clear plans & make plans clear. Be certain about where you will go, how you’ll get there & who’ll be around you. Having certainty about these issues will afford a degree of control over you surroundings. It may be camping, surfing or just lying by the pool at a resort. Have people around you that are “good energy”. Those people that won’t be upset if you cry or just creep into your own space. Don’t be beholden to what other people may expect of you. Let everyone know what you are doing to avoid any disappointment on their behalf.

  • Put aside time to reminisce & reflect. This may take many forms. Writing them a letter expressing what you miss about them, how much they meant to you & any unsaid feelings that you may not have expressed when they were alive. Look at old photos or videos. You may want to do this alone or with someone who is happy to do this. Down time to relax and reminisce is also beneficial.

  • Remember that they would want you to celebrate their lives. Perhaps find music which was significant or celebrated a milestone for the person. Singing/music is a healthy way to healing. Maybe make a toast to a departed one. Perhaps light a candle. Don’t feel guilty if you enjoy yourself. Living with hope is essential.



  • Be positive. Be the glass is half full person. Address the aspects of your life that you are fortunate to have. In the end it’s your health & those around you that are important. Don’t lose sight of this.

  • Revenge is the most destructive emotion. Know that retribution against someone who has hurt you will not neutralise the bitterness of your pain. It will eat away at your very being. Be positive and remember the past cannot be changed- Circle of Life..

  • Have counselling. It’s essential to discuss your feelings with an independent third party. This allows an avenue to share fears & feelings that non-grieving people cannot relate to. Express anger and negative emotions. As the saying goes “Better out than in”

  • Be gentle on yourself. Don’t try & hurry the process or think that you will “get over it”. With good management you’ll be able to accept what has happened and still live a fulfilled life.

  • Find out what the meaning of life is for you. Set yourself some easy & clear goals. They need to be achievable or else you may get disillusioned when you fail to achieve them.

  • Be surrounded by people who will listen and not judge your reactions, but offer hugs and kisses instead – Circle of Life

  • Let friends & family know what does & doesn’t help you. Males especially can struggle with this concept & may think that their masculinity precludes them from asking for help. In the end, nobody can help you unless you communicate clearly. Communicate, talk, share, & know that you aren’t alone in your battle.

HOLIDAYS, after the loss of a loved one, may never be viewed in quite the same light again but with time and a strategic plan, you can begin forming new memories that will become the foundation of your future.

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