We are approaching that time of year when we all start thinking about the holidays and what we are going to do and how we are going to spend them. For some, it is a joyous season full of happy times with family and friends. For others, the joy is missing and the stress can be overwhelming. Can you imagine what these months are like for someone who will be spending the holidays without a loved one for the first time?
How can we support a grieving family during the holiday season?
Renee Hawley, counselor with Healing Partners and grief specialist, states that the important thing to remember is that people will have a harder time with any special day the first time they have to spend it without their loved one. Depending on the family dynamic and what was important to them, those days and times will be significant in their grief and healing. It could be the birthday of the survivor or the deceased, or it could be a special holiday, like Easter, spent with family.
Hawley suggests we all keep these following points in mind as good ways to support a family who is grieving during the holidays:
- Acknowledge the loss and show that you are aware that the person is hurting:
- “This must be hard for you.”
- Encourage family members to talk about their feelings. Members may disagree about how to handle the holidays. It is good for them to talk about possible plans and agree to compromise.
- “Mom, we would really love for you to spend the day with us. But if you would rather just spend a few hours instead, we understand.”
- Whatever someone may be feeling, it is probably what they should be feeling and it is okay.
- Try not to judge what someone may be experiencing based on what you think they should be feeling.
The holidays can be stressful for anyone, not just someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Anyone who has experienced a loss such as the loss of a job, a divorce, or other life-changing event close to the holidays might feel stress or sadness during this time. The important thing to remember is that we must acknowledge the loss and the feelings associated with it. Then we can acknowledge that healing has to happen and we can help families talk about a plan for their healing.
A healing plan for those meaningful days may include:
- Cutting the day into segments to allow for some quiet time and reflection
- Having an alternative plan if families are still struggling with their emotions and grief
- Setting a place at the holiday table for the lost loved one
- Involving children in the plan and acknowledge their feelings and need to participate
- Communication is paramount to healing. Allow time for discussion, expression of emotions and feelings
- Agree to seek help from an outside source if families or individuals are still struggling with the loss
As the saying goes “You are no good to anyone else unless you take care of yourself first.” An equally important question for professional caregivers to ask themselves this fall is: “How can I take care of myself during the holiday season?”
If you are healthcare professional, it is your responsibility to provide the best quality of care for those who are in need of care throughout the year, including the holiday season. Even though you may be surrounded by pain, sadness or death of clients, remember that it is okay to feel joyful during the holiday season.
It is common for those in the healthcare, therapy and counseling industries to suffer compassion fatigue and burn out if they don’t take healthy steps to take care of themselves. Burn out can result in poor quality of care for those you care for, and unhealthy coping behaviors for yourself.
Here are some tips to help you stay healthy and relieve stresses, especially during the holidays:
- Find balance between work and your personal life. Take time for yourself when you need it and don’t feel guilty about taking personal time.
- Talk about your feelings with others. Allow time to share your feelings with colleagues, family and friends to help alleviate built-up stresses.
- Take part in extracurricular activities. Hobbies, sports, and socializing are great ways to occupy your mind and time with constructive activities.
- Maintain healthy habits. Eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep and spiritual care are all important activities in holistic self-care.
- Establish a ritual for yourself. Whether it is a daily prayer, writing in a journal, or taking the dog for a walk, set up something you do regularly for yourself.
- Don’t “should” on yourself. “I should be stronger,” “I should not feel guilty,” “I should work harder,” – you should take care of yourself and be okay doing so.
- Seek outside help. If you are having difficulty coping with your stresses and feelings, there are several outside resources for you to consider seeking help including private counseling.
Hopefully these tips will help you alleviate compassion fatigue during this holiday season and help to guide you to a healthier more holistic approach to self-care throughout the year. If you would like to learn more about compassion fatigue, please visit www.compassionfatigue.org.
Julie is the Director of Community Relations at Schoedinger Funeral Service.