December 16, 2010
Coping with the Holidays After the Death of a Loved One or when you Are a Victim/Crime Survivor
You Can Make It Through the Holidays
Many among us have struggled with the cloud of sadness that may surround the holidays when a friend or family has experienced a tragedy such as a sudden violent death or a serious physical or emotional injury. The onslaught of holiday cheer may seem too much to bear. Holidays may give rise to new or returning bouts of depression, panic attacks, and other forms of anxiety for those whose lives have been affected. Victims of crime, family members, friends, and work colleagues may re-experience life-changing traumas through flashbacks, nightmares, and overwhelming sadness. Some have trouble sleeping, while others don't want to get out of bed. Tears may come easily, often when least expected. Old ailments, including headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and other aches and pains may return.
Many victims and families, however, have found that holidays can be manageable if they take charge of the season, rather than letting it take charge of them.
Families who have made this difficult journey offer some suggestions to help those who may be just starting down this path.
Trying to make this holiday seem like holidays of the past can intensify the difference. Gather the family together early and decide which traditions to keep and which to let go. Change holiday plans to accommodate the needs and wishes of those who are hurting the most. Pay particular attention to the physical needs of someone who has acquired a disability as a result of victimization.
Create a Special Tribute
Some families light a special candle and place it on a holiday table to honor the memory of a loved one who has died. Others keep a chair empty and place a flower or other memorial on the seat. Some write treasured remembrances and place them on a special plate or in a bowl for those who wish to read them. Families of a surviving victim may want to honor that person by openly expressing gratitude for his or her presence.
Consider Carefully Where to Spend the Holidays
Many people think going away will make the holidays easier. This may be helpful if you are traveling to a place where you will feel loved and nurtured. However, if travel is arranged as a means of trying to avoid the holiday atmosphere, remember that American holidays are celebrated throughout this country and in many parts of the world. It is impossible to escape holiday reminders.
Accept grieving friends and family members as they are; don't try to tell them how they should feel or state that you "understand" how they feel. Focus on giving unconditional support.
Balance Solitude With Sociability
Rest and solitude can help renew strength. Friends and family, however, can be a wonderful source of support. If you are invited to holiday outings, make an effort to go. Attend concerts or other cultural events that lift your spirits. You may surprise yourself by enjoying special outings, even if you feel like crying later.
Relive Fond Memories
Attempting to go through the holidays pretending that nothing has happened can be a heavy and unrealistic burden. Think about holiday seasons you have enjoyed in the past and identify memories you want to hold in your heart forever. No one can take those away from you. Celebrate them and be grateful. If feelings of sadness pop up at inappropriate times, such as at work or in a public gathering, try thinking about what you have, rather than what you have lost. Focus on the blessing of the memories in your heart.
Set Aside Some "Letting Go" Time
Schedule time to be alone and release sad and lonely, pent-up feelings. You may want to cry or write about your thoughts and feelings. If someone has died, you may choose to write a letter to say "goodbye," "I love you," or "I'm sorry." Even though it may feel strange, allow your loved one to write back to you through your pen. You may be surprised at what you write. By setting aside special times to allow painful feelings to surface, it becomes easier to postpone expressing them in public.
Counter the Conspiracy of Silence
Family members may consciously or unconsciously conspire to avoid mentioning the tragedy in your family. This is usually a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to protect your feelings. If this seems to be happening, take the initiative and talk to your family about the importance of talking openly about what has happened and sharing your feelings of loss or sadness. Encourage them to tell stories about your loved one and to look for opportunities to refer to him or her by name.
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Notice the Positive
Some people conclude that facing the holidays is simply "awful." But deciding prematurely that "everything about life is awful" is too strong a generalization from a personal tragedy. Although you may have difficult times during the holidays, you also may experience joy. Accept the love and care of others. Reach out to someone else who is suffering. Give yourself permission to feel sad and to experience joy.
Consider shopping online as an alternative to the frenzy of mall shopping-but don't try to "buy" your way out of sad feelings.
Find a Creative Outlet
If you have difficulty talking about your feelings, look for a creative way to express yourself. Write a poem or story that you can share with others. Buy watercolors or oils and put your feelings on paper or canvas, even if only splashes of color. Contribute to a favorite charity or organization in your loved one's memory-either financially or by volunteering to help. Buy gifts for less fortunate children, a hospital, or a nursing home.
Remember the Children
Listen to them. Celebrate them. Cherish them.
Children may have deep feelings that can be overlooked if you spend all your time focusing on yourself. Putting up holiday decorations can be a draining emotional experience, but these symbols are very significant to children. A friend or relative likely will be happy to help decorate or purchase and wrap gifts.
Protect Your Health
Physical and emotional stress changes the chemical balance in your system and can make you ill. Eat healthy food and avoid over-indulging in sweets. Drink plenty of water, even if you don't feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol, which can be a depressant. Take a multivitamin. Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Talk with your doctor about an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication if you think it will help. If you are unsure how a medication will affect you, talk to your doctor about your concerns.
The most valuable help usually comes from someone who shares a common experience or understands something about what you're going through.
Call Upon Available Resources
People of faith are encouraged to observe services and rituals offered by their church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other faith community. Many "veterans of faith" offer serenity, a quiet presence, and healing wisdom. You may want to look for a support group of persons who have suffered similar experiences. The Mental Health America has affiliates around the Nation that keep lists of such local groups. If a group does not exist in your area, you can establish your own short-term group to focus on getting through the holidays. Spend as much time as possible with the people you love the most.
Most important, remember that you can't change the past, but you can take charge of the present and shape the future.