Category

Grief/Loss

10 Tips for Processing Addiction or Suicide Loss

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

Losing a loved one is hard and emotionally draining – every time. However, when you lose a loved one to suicide or addiction, the loss is not only hard, it becomes stigmatized and disenfranchised. In other words, it’s hard to talk about, hard to get people to understand, and in many ways, you may feel ashamed or unable to talk about what happened because you don’t even fully understand it yourself.

As you begin to work through the emotions you feel surrounding your loved one’s death, it’s valuable to understand that what you’re feeling is normal. Are you angry? Confused? Feeling guilty? Sad? That’s okay. Do you even feel a small sense of relief that the up and down struggle with your loved one’s emotional state is over? That’s okay, too. And completely normal, by the way. Your emotions are nothing to be ashamed of, but they are something you must actively process through so that you can reach healing and find a way to reconcile yourself to your loved one’s death and the circumstances around it.

Let’s review 10 suggestions that will help you on your grief journey as you work through your feelings of loss and find a way to move forward.

1. Remember, you’re not alone

While there is often a societal stigma associated with suicide or addiction deaths, don’t allow yourself to become isolated. You are one of many thousands of people, even tens of thousands, affected by the loss of a loved one to suicide or addiction. Seek these people out. You will find those who are willing to talk about their experience and help you walk through yours.

2. Confront the circumstances

It’s easy to deny the role that drugs or mental health issues played in your loved one’s death, but it’s better to find a way to acknowledge the circumstances of the loss. In many ways, your loved one did not choose to die. They were under the influence of highly addictive drugs or of powerfully persuasive and destructive internal thoughts. In both instances, they were unwell and not themselves. If you can find a way to accept the reality of the situation – tragic as it is – then you have taken an important step toward grieving in a healthy way.

3. Express your feelings

As with any type of loss, you need to move the emotions inside out. In other words, what you’re feeling on the inside needs to be released rather than pent-up. You can do this in a variety of ways. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, grief support group, or professional therapist. Take time to journal, create art, compose music, or capture photographs – all focused on capturing what you feel. If you prefer physical exertion to help you express your more intense emotions, go for a run, do woodworking, restore a car, or do something else that fits your particular interests. The main thing is to find options that help you offload whatever you’re carrying inside.

4. Understand what leads to addiction or suicide

While it may seem a difficult task, the more you understand what led to your loved one’s death, the more capable you will be to process through any feelings of guilt or self-blame. You may think that you could have somehow prevented the death or could have done more. As you learn more about the factors that lead to addiction and suicide, the more you will realize your own role in the narrative and that your loved one was the only one capable of overcoming their own battles. You could not have fought the battle for them. Don’t take on more blame than is actually yours to bear.

5. Stand up for yourself

Because addiction and suicide deaths are often stigmatized by society, you may come across people who are insensitive or unkind. Don’t be afraid to kindly tell someone that their comments are hurtful and not helpful. You will be able to tell if the person is being intentionally unkind or simply doesn’t realize their words hurt you. For those who are unintentional, explain why their comments aren’t supportive, and they will likely apologize. For those who are unkind on purpose, dismiss their words as unimportant. Then, if it’s best, avoid seeing them in the future. You are dealing with a deep, complex loss and the last thing you need is a human hurdle on your way to healing.

6. Learn about available resources

Often, there are grief resources available right there in your community. Whether it’s a professional counselor or a grief support group, you should be able to find help near you. Some support groups that are nationwide (though not in every city) are:

  • GRASP (Grief Recovery After Substance Passing)
  • Al-anon (not specifically for grief but offer family support groups for those with a loved one dealing with alcoholism)
  • Nar-anon (not specifically for grief but offer family support groups for those with a loved one dealing with substance abuse)
  • GriefShare (grief support groups)

If none of these meet your specific needs or aren’t available in your area, do a Google search or call local hospices or funeral homes to see if they may have a list of grief resources available in the area.

7. Care for yourself

Grief takes a physical, mental, and emotional toll on your body. Get plenty of sleep, stay active, and eat nutritious meals to give your body the energy it needs to sustain you through the grief journey. Take time to pamper yourself. Get a massage or a pedicure. Go out to the golf course for a few holes. Go for walks or runs with friends or alone. Buy yourself a treat (within reason). In other words, make sure that you aren’t running yourself ragged, but instead, are caring for yourself.

8. Meet your spiritual needs

As you take care of yourself physically, make sure to take time to meet your spiritual needs as well. Meet with a spiritual leader. Pray. Meditate. Sing. Write. Cry. As human beings, we are complex and have so many facets. We are the entire package – mind, body, and soul – and all three aspects need care and attention during times of grief. Right now, you may feel hiding or ignoring God, and that’s okay. He’s not going anywhere, so when you’re ready, reach out and He’ll be there for you.

9. Honor your loved one’s life

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief counselor, author, and educator, often says “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” In other words, take time to honor your loved one’s life in formal and informal ways. Plan a personalized funeral or memorial service. Invite friends over for a gathering to talk through your mutual loss. Attend the visitation to pay your respects. Give and/or receive condolences and sympathy. Make a collage of photos as a remembrance. Plant a memorial tree. Create a photo or scrapbook that will remind you of the good times. Some of these may resonate with you and others may not. Simply choose what works best for your life and personality.

You may be tempted to forego many of the normal funeral traditions because of the sensitive nature of your loved one’s death. While you can certainly make appropriate changes, take the necessary time to remember your loved one’s life and mourn what could have been.

10. Give yourself time

Healing from loss doesn’t happen in a day. Instead, it’s one day, even one moment, at a time. Don’t expect yourself to heal quickly. Give yourself the time and the grace you need to grieve well rather than in a hurry. There’s no timeline for grief. As long as you are doing the work of grief and working through your emotions, you can take all the time you need. There will be good days and bad days. Your grief will surprise you some days and will be absent on others. It’s all part of the process as you move toward healing and reconciliation.

Hopefully these insights will give you a place to start as you walk through your grief journey. While you may never know why your loved one chose this path, understanding their reasons isn’t the ultimate goal. What matters is that you take care of yourself through your pain, that you confront the emotions you feel, and that you allow yourself to heal and find renewed meaning and purpose in life. You can do this.

What is Complicated Grief?

By Grief/Loss

You are likely familiar with feelings of grief, but did you know that there are different variations of grief? Of course, the experience of grief is different from person to person, but sometimes “normal grief” can take a turn and become something a little different. The four most common variations are disenfranchised grief, complicated grief, compounded grief, and anticipatory grief. Today, let’s unpack complicated grief so that you have a better understanding of this potentially serious detour in the grieving process.

First, Let’s Define Normal Grief

Before we dive into complicated grief (also known as prolonged grief), it’s important that you understand what normal grief looks like. Put simply, grief is your natural human response to the loss of someone or something you love. The emotions of grief vary greatly – sadness, anger, guilt, relief, shock – but these are all normal responses to loss. As much as you may prefer not to feel or deal with these types of emotions, they are actually a healthy part of the grieving process.

Grief is often accompanied by age-old rituals that bring people together to grieve. We hold hands, offer words of support and love, send cards and flowers, make donations, and deliver hot meals to the grieving family. We stand together to support those who are grieving and give them emotional and physical support as they mourn. But what happens if nothing helps and you feel stuck in a downward spiral of grief and despair?

Enter Complicated Grief

As we move forward, we’re going to review several key aspects of complicated grief. We’ll start off with a definition before moving into the symptoms, who is susceptible, and how to get help.

A Quick Definition

When you lose someone or something you love, you’re going to experience grief. The initial period of time just after a loss, when your emotions are unpredictable and you can’t concentrate on anything but the loss, is called acute grief. It’s the hard beginning of loss. However, in most cases, after a period of time, you are able to move into integrated grief. This means that you have learned to accept the reality of the death, have found ways to cope and adapt to your new way of life, and have begun to hope again, finding renewed meaning and purpose in life. Moving from acute grief (initial feelings of loss) to integrated grief (a reconciliation to the loss) is a natural progression through the grief journey.

This movement or reconciliation takes time, but it’s characterized by a lessening of your grief feelings. You may bounce back and forth between sadness, shock, and anger for a little while, but then, your grief feelings gradually lessen until they become an ache that occasionally comes back to visit you (normally around special days and events).

However, sometimes acute grief doesn’t progress as it should. Instead of lessening over time, your feelings of grief intensify until all you can think about is the loss you’ve gone through. This is complicated grief. In most cases, complicated grief occurs following the loss of a person, but it’s not necessarily confined to that.

With complicated grief, the death becomes center stage in your life. Many of those suffering from complicated grief are unable to resume normal life and are stuck in a state of intense mourning.

Symptoms of Complicated Grief

As we’ve talked about, complicated grief is an extended time of intense grief when you are unable to move through the grieving process. The grief begins to take over your life and the future seems bleak and lonely.

At first, many of the symptoms of complicated grief look like normal grief. However, if grief indicators worsen as time passes, then it could be a case of complicated grief. Here are a few symptoms to look out for months and even years following the loss:

  • Intense sorrow, pain, or pining over the loss, focusing on little else
  • Problems accepting the reality of the death
  • Strong attachment to mementos/reminders or a strong avoidance of them
  • Numbness, detachment, bitterness, and/or easily irritated
  • Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
  • Trouble carrying out normal routines, including personal hygiene
  • Increasingly isolated and withdrawn
  • Denial and defensiveness when asked about the grief
  • Guilt over feeling that they did something wrong, could have prevented the death, or should have died along with the loved one

If six months or more have passed since the loss and grief feelings have only gotten worse, then it’s time to consider getting help. Six months is not a hard and fast rule as some losses will take years to recover from, but it is enough time to ascertain whether grief symptoms are lessening or worsening.

Who’s Susceptible?

While doctors and mental health professionals are still learning about complicated grief, it’s believed that as much as 20% of those who lose a loved one will experience complicated grief. Unfortunately, it’s not yet known exactly what causes complicated grief, though it’s considered another type of mental health disorder.

As with many mental health disorders, the cause may be related to your environment, personality, genetics, or chemical makeup. Complicated grief occurs more often in women and particularly those of an older age. Outside these factors, other circumstances may increase a person’s risk of experiencing complicated grief, including:

  • The death was shocking, unexpected, violent, or premature
  • There was more than one death in a short period of time
  • You witnessed the death or suffering with the deceased (as with a long illness)
  • You had a close or dependent relationship to the deceased person
  • Social isolation or loss of a support system or friendships
  • Past history of depression, separation anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Traumatic childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect
  • Other major life stressors, such as major financial hardships

Seeking Help

Just as with any other mental health concern, it’s best to seek professional support and care when dealing with complicated grief. If you find that you or a loved one have been unable to make distinct progress toward integrated grief and that your grief feelings are intensifying (no matter how long it’s been), consider whether now is the time to seek help so that you can come to terms with your loss and reclaim a sense of acceptance and peace.

At first, you may think you can handle things, but over time, complicated grief can affect you physically, mentally, and socially. Without the proper treatment, complications could arise, including:

  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Anxiety, including PTSD
  • Significant sleep disturbances
  • Increased risk of physical illness, such as heart disease, cancer, or high blood pressure
  • Long-term difficulty with daily living, relationships, or work activities
  • Alcohol, nicotine use, or substance abuse

At this point in time, it’s not clear how to prevent complicated grief. However, counseling and grief therapy soon after the loss (especially for those in an at-risk group) is thought to help curb the severity of complicated grief and put you on the path to healing.

What Can Family and Friends Do to Help?

Because those suffering from complicated grief are susceptible to additional complications like depression, anxiety, or sleep issues, the best option is to speak with a professional, who can act as a guide through the entire journey toward recovery.

However, as family and friends, you can do something to help!

Offer your full and loving support to the person dealing with complicated grief. Be there to talk. Be encouraging. Bring small gifts or tokens of your love. Actively listen and don’t interrupt. Plan positive activities, like taking a walk or doing something they’ve always enjoyed.

They don’t need you to try to fix them; they need you to accept them where they are right now. Be there for them. Realize that complicated grief is difficult on both of you and the road to recovery may be long and difficult. But it is achievable! When we do the work of grief, we can find a way to reconcile ourselves to loss and find new hope and meaning for the future.

How to Talk to Children About Euthanizing a Pet

By Grief/Loss, Pets

Pets are a lovable, adorable, and often irreplaceable part of our families. Because of our attachment to them, the decision to euthanize a pet is incredibly difficult, especially when you have kids. For many children, the loss of a pet is often the first death they experience. However, you can turn the decision to euthanize into an opportunity to teach your child about healthy grieving. Let’s talk through a few helpful tips for talking to your child about euthanizing a pet.

1. Be open and honest.

Your first instinct may be to sugarcoat the situation or rely on euphemisms. Instead, stick to the truth. Taking your child’s age and maturity level into account, gauge just how much information they need to hear. It’s preferable to use words like “death” and “dying” – it will help your child realize the permanence of your pet’s absence.

A few don’ts:

  • Stay away from euphemisms like your pet went “to sleep” or was “put to sleep.” Children are very literal, and by using these terms, you may inadvertently give your child sleep anxiety because they begin to associate sleep with dying or never coming back.
  • Avoid glossing over the truth with a white lie like “Sunny ran away” or “Fido went on a trip.” These may give your child a sense of hope that the pet will return, which prevents them from grieving and moving on.
  • Stay away from saying that the pet was so special that God wanted him in heaven. This could cause a child to grow angry at God or fear that they themselves might be next.
  • Don’t blame the veterinarian. Instead, consider asking your vet for advice on how to talk about euthanasia with your children. They may even be open to personally talking to your children about why euthanasia may be the best option for your pet.

Ultimately, the best policy is to tell them the truth in simple terms and then be ready to answer questions.

2. Help your child understand why euthanasia is necessary.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be explaining to your children why euthanasia may be the best option. First, explain why you think euthanasia is necessary. This could be old age, terminal illness, or an accident. A few examples of what you could say:

  • Sunny is sick and the veterinarian has done everything he/she can to help. Sunny is hurting, and this will take away her pain.
  • The doctor has done everything he/she can, but Fido’s not going to get better. By doing this, we can help Fido die peacefully. He won’t hurt or be scared.
  • When an animal gets very old, their body stops working. When that happens, we can help by taking away their pain.

If your children ask what euthanasia is, you could say, “When a pet is really old or hurting, the veterinarian will give them a special shot that stops the heart and takes away the pain.” Maneuver through the questions as best you can, taking your child’s maturity level into account.

3. Discuss what’s happening as a family.

It’s best not to euthanize your pet without talking to your children first. In fact, if it’s possible, include them in the discussion. Talk about how old your pet is and how much pain they feel. Discuss your pet’s health diagnosis and the cost of treatment. Together, as a family unit, make the decision about what’s best. It may be a difficult conversation, but your older children will appreciate being allowed to participate in the decision. Also, it will be a growth opportunity as you model positive decision-making.

4. Give the kids the opportunity to say goodbye.

Once you’ve decided that euthanasia is necessary, give your child an opportunity to say their goodbyes. When we don’t have a chance to say goodbye – whether it’s to a pet or a person – there’s something in us that just doesn’t heal properly. So, rather than taking your pet to the vet while your kids are away, tell them what’s going to happen. Give them the chance to say goodbye and to hug or kiss your pet. They need this moment of closure just as much as you do.

5. Let your child decide if they want to be present for your pet’s euthanasia.

If your child is older (around 6+), let them decide if they want to be present for your pet’s euthanasia. For some children, seeing the peaceful reality is easier to deal with than whatever fantasy they may conjure on their own. If they don’t want to go, that’s fine, too. Just having the option to choose is often enough. If your child does want to attend, let the veterinarian know and do what you can to prepare your child for what they will see.

Children are often more resilient than we give them credit for and allowing them the choice can help create positive coping abilities for the future. Additionally, giving your child a voice in the process makes them feel part of the decision, giving them a semblance of control in what can feel like a helpless and overwhelming situation.

6. Help your children grieve.

Finally, after euthanasia has taken place, help your child through the grieving process. For many children, a pet can almost feel like a sibling – the bond is so close and deep. That’s why it’s important to help them grieve the loss of their dear, furry friend. You might plan a small memorial for your pet and let your child take part. Or, you could put together a scrapbook of photos and memories or create a DVD. You could place a photo of the pet in your child’s room or purchase a stuffed animal that looks similar to your pet to help bring them comfort.

Above all, encourage them to talk about what they’re feeling and look for ways to help them express those emotions. And don’t be shy about sharing your own feelings – they need to see them! What your children learn now will help them process grief as adults. Teach them now how to process grief in a healthy way, and they will carry it into their adulthood and use what they learned to cope with future grief.

Best Books on Grief for a Teenager

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

Do you remember being a teenager and going through acne, mood swings, friendship drama, and all the rest? Imagine if you were going through all that plus grieving the loss of a loved one. You may want to shelter your teenager from death and the hard things of life, but it’s simply not possible. Instead, help them learn how to deal with their emotions and implement healthy habits for grieving.

Giving your teenager a book that will help them understand what they’re feeling and why will help them better understand grief and will give you an opportunity – as parent or caregiver – to have open and honest conversations about loss and how to grieve well.

Below, you will find a series of books appropriate for teenagers that focus on grief, loss, and dealing with death. While they are certainly not the only books available, they will give you a place to start.

Let’s begin!

When a Friend Dies: A Book for Teens about Grieving & Healing by Marilyn E. Gootman Ed.D.

When a Friend Dies helps to answer common questions teens may ask themselves after the loss of a friend, including “How should I be acting?” and “Is it wrong to still have fun?” and “What if I can’t handle this on my own?” Sensitive, gentle, and compassionate, this book includes advice from the author based on her own experience helping teens through grief as well as quotes from real-life teenagers who have experienced grief. This is a realistic, straightforward, and easy to understand resource that will help your teen through the loss of a friend.

Click here to view the book.

Weird is Normal: When Teenagers Grieve by Jenny Lee Wheeler

Written by a teenager after the loss of her father to cancer, Jenny Lee Wheeler recounts her own struggle to deal with grief and loss when she was just 14 years old. With a fresh perspective for her peers, Wheeler helps teens understand some important fundamentals of grief, including that grief is natural, it takes time, and there’s no easy or right way to grieve. For a slightly different take on what it means to grieve as a teen, take a look at Wheeler’s story.

Click here to view the book.

Help for the Hard Times: Getting Through Loss by Earl Hipp

Thoughtfully written and engaging, Earl Hipp draws on his background and experience as a clinical psychotherapist to discuss the losses young people experience. In this book, he gives teens the tools they need to grieve, to explore and articulate difficult feelings, and to find a way to move toward healing and reconciliation. With several books in print and more than a quarter million copies sold, Hipp is a respected voice in the grief care world.

Click here to view the book.

Grieving for the Sibling You Lost: A Teen’s Guide to Coping with Grief & Finding Meaning after Loss by Erica Goldblatt Hyatt

Losing a sibling at any age can be devastating but can be doubly so for teens who are still developing grieving techniques. In this compassionate guide, Hyatt helps teens identify their coping style, deal with overwhelming emotions, and find constructive ways to process the loss they feel. Whether your teen is dealing with loneliness, depression, anxiety, or some other deep emotion, this book will help them work through negative thoughts and find their way toward healing and new purpose.

Click here to view the book.

Grief Recovery for Teens: Letting Go of Painful Emotions with Body-Based Practices by Coral Popowitz

As the Executive Director of Children’s Grief Connection, a grief camp focused on helping children, teens, and their families process loss, Coral Popowitz brings years of experience with trauma and grief to the table in her helpful guide for dealing with the physical aspects of grief and loss. Grief brings feelings of sadness, loneliness, and even fear, but did you know that these emotions can also greatly affect your body? With sensitivity and care, Popowitz will help your teen understand the connection between the mind and the body and how body-based practices can help relieve the physical symptoms of grief.

Click here to view the book.

Healing Your Grieving Heart for Teens: 100 Practical Ideas by Dr. Alan Wolfelt

As a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, Dr. Alan Wolfelt often says, “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” In this insightful read, Wolfelt breaks down some of the basics of grief and offers teens a series of healing activities that will help them express their grief in a healthy way and mourn naturally. The thoughtful ideas are targeted at helping young people process through difficult emotions and learn how to release their grief in a way that is healthy and positive so they can find healing and continued meaning in life.

Click here to view the book. To see an accompanying journal (not required), click here.

Straight Talk about Death for Teenagers: How to Cope with Losing Someone You Love by Dr. Earl Grollman

This classic book on grief for teenagers is still read and much lauded to this day. From award-winning author Dr. Earl Grollman, this book helps teens understand what is normal when you grieve, explains what teens can expect as they move through the grief journey, and offers helpful tips for coping with the emotions that accompany losing a loved one. A quick read, the book is divided into sections focusing on the early days of grief, facing the immediate future, learning to cope, and rebuilding your life. Down to earth and easy to read, this book is sure to help your teen work through the complexities of grief and find a firm foundation for moving forward.

Click here to view the book.

You are Not Alone: Teens Talk About Life After the Loss of a Parent by Lynne Hughes

Losing a parent is one of the most isolating and frightening experiences that a young person can face. Written specifically for teens grieving the loss of a parent, Lynne Hughes draws on her experience as the director of a bereavement camp to share words of reassurance and coping strategies. Using testimonials from teens she has worked with, Hughes brings the grief struggle to life, offering teens a look into the struggles of their peers as they discover what works and what doesn’t on the journey toward healing. If you know a teen who is struggling with the loss of a parent, look into this helpful resource and see if you think it might help.

Click here to view the book.

Living When a Young Friend Commits Suicide: Or Even Starts Talking About It by Dr. Earl Grollman

Another grief classic by Dr. Earl Grollman, this book focuses specifically on suicide loss. In the last few decades, the suicide rate amongst young people has increased, so the likelihood that your teen may lose someone they love to suicide is higher than ever before. In this sensitive read, Dr. Grollman offers solace and tender guidance to teens who are confronted with traumatic suicide loss at such an early age.

Click here to view the book.

The final book on the list is actually a resource for parents and caregivers as you work to help your teen identify and express their feelings in a way that is healthy and productive.

Teen Grief: Caring for the Grieving Teenage Heart by Gary Roe

A winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award, this book was called “an invaluable resource for parents, teachers, coaches, ministers, and anyone who has a teenager they love and want to help.” No matter what type of grief your teen is facing – divorce, rejection, violence, abuse, illness, disability, death of a loved one – this book will help you:

  • Understand how your teen is viewing the loss and how deep the pain goes
  • Support your teen as they work through anxiety, depression, guilt, fear, and other emotions
  • Learn how to walk with your teen and be a safe person
  • And more!

With this resource at your fingertips, you will have a comprehensive guide as you help your teen navigate through the losses of life and find healing.

Click here to view the book.

While these books do not guarantee success or that your teenager will be able to process their grief quickly, they will serve as helpful resources on the journey toward healing. Grief takes time. Give your teen the time and loving support they need to process the difficult emotions they feel. As they do the work of grief and express what they feel, they will find a way to move forward into a healthy future.

Self-Care After Suicide Loss

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

Grief, in all its forms, is exhausting mentally, physically, and psychologically. In addition to all the emotions it stirs up, loss forces us into a life change – learning how to move forward without a loved one. For those who have lost a loved one to suicide, there are added complications, like wanting to understand why, feeling isolated, and dealing with stigma and the negative attitudes of others. Because of these added factors, it’s even more important to practice self-care as you move through the process of grieving, coming to terms with what happened, and figuring out how to move forward, even if you don’t have all the answers.

10 Self-Care Tips After Suicide Loss

1. Explore your feelings

With suicide loss, so many questions and negative emotions may be fighting for space in your mind. Why did they do this? What could I have done differently? Anger, shame, guilt, confusion, and possibly relief, may battle with the sadness you feel. These complex emotions are completely normal. You have been confronted with a devastating, unexpected loss, and now, you have to wade through the questions and emotions that come with it. Don’t be afraid to name your emotions, whatever they may be. The sooner you recognize them, the sooner you can learn to deal with them.

2. Find ways to express those feelings

For many people, expressing our feelings means talking to someone we trust – whether that’s a friend, family member, or counselor. With suicide loss, people are generally more reluctant to talk about the loss because they feel ashamed of what their loved one did, or they can’t bear to process the emotions raging within them. They’d rather bottle it up and pretend everything is okay.

It’s not healthy to keep things inside. The only way to begin to process your feelings is to express them. However, you can carefully choose your method of expression. Maybe it is talking to someone. It could also be writing down what you feel, painting, drawing, walking in nature, or any number of things. The point is – find what works for you and begin the work of processing any negative emotions you may feel.

3. Take your time

Grief isn’t linear. It doesn’t follow a timeline or schedule. We can’t input a formula, and in exactly 10 months and five days, everything will be over and dealt with. Ultimately, the time it takes depends on you. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally recognized grief expert and founder of the Center for Loss & Life Transition, says, “I have learned that we cannot go around the pain of our grief. Instead, we must learn to embrace and express it. This is hard but absolutely necessary work.” Take your time – all the time you need – but do the work. Process your feelings. Learn to let go of the unanswered questions. Find new hope. Live your life and remember your loved one.

4. Treat yourself kindly

When something happens that you feel you could have prevented, you may blame yourself for not making different choices. You may be taking on part of the responsibility for your loved one’s death, but ultimately, it was their decision. Maybe you could have been kinder or more encouraging or noticed something sooner, but either way, the decision was out of your hands. While feelings of guilt may rise, treat yourself with kindness. You may need to accept that you could have done more, but in the same turn, also accept that your loved one made a choice that was beyond your control. Give yourself grace. Treat yourself and others with kindness. Love those still around you wholeheartedly.

5. Reach out to those you love

While your grief journey is something you must walk yourself, you don’t have to walk alone. Reach out to the people in your life who have been steadfast. Draw on your support groups – family, friends, church, volunteer groups, etc. There are people who love you, and they will stand by you as you process your loved one’s death. They may not always know what to say – you may not know what to say – but you can invite a few hand-selected people to walk with you as you learn how to move forward.

6. Eat well and get enough sleep

Grief can take a lot out of you. You may forget to eat or feel excessively tired. When dealing with suicide loss, sleep may feel elusive because questions plague your thoughts. No matter what, be intentional about taking care of your physical body. Make sure that you are eating, even if you don’t necessarily feel like it. Nap when you’re tired unless you’re having trouble sleeping at night. If you are having trouble sleeping at night, avoid naps, try journaling your thoughts before bed, and create a bedtime routine you can sustain. By journaling at night, you can get those niggling thoughts out before your head hits the pillow – it may just help you sleep through the night.

7. Allow yourself to have fun

It’s okay to have fun. You may still be dealing with the loss of your loved one, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the life you have. Take a long soak in a hot bath. Go out to the movies with your friends. Bake your favorite dessert. Go shopping for that new pair of shoes. Even though you’re grieving, you must hang onto the joy of life. There is so much possibility ahead of you, and while there will be dark days when grief shows its face, there are also days of joy and happiness to come. After all, laughter is the best medicine.

8. Establish a routine

When something unexpected happens in life, everything feels out of control. Your routine is upset. You are suddenly dealing with events and people you didn’t expect. This is what happens when we lose a loved one suddenly – our lives lose their normalcy and are thrown into disarray. By establishing a routine, you can begin to gain back some normalcy and control. When you feel comfortable in your routine, you can begin to process what’s happened and learn how to deal with and manage your grief.

9. Recognize when you need a little extra help

With every suicide death, an estimated six or more people become “suicide survivors” – people who have lost a loved one and are struggling to understand why. Research shows us that suicide survivors often need the help of a mental health professional or a grief support group as they process through the loss. Because of the complex emotions and the unanswered questions, it’s always important to consider whether you should talk to a professional who can help you move forward.

A skilled mental health professional or grief counselor can:

  • Help you make sense of what happened and process your reactions to the loss
  • Work with you to explore any unresolved issues in your relationship with your lost loved one
  • Offer specialized support and understanding as you walk through your grief journey

10. Enjoy the good things in your life

When dealing with loss, especially a traumatic loss, it’s important to keep perspective, to focus on the good things in life. Otherwise, we can get transfixed on what’s difficult and beyond our control. So, take time every day to hug your children. Embrace your parents. Spend time with the people you love. Do the things that bring you joy. The good things in life sustain us through the bad. They give us hope for the future, and even though it may seem like the world is ending, there are good things coming, if you take the time to look.

Understanding Your Grief: Hope for the Holidays

By COVID-19, Dr. Wolfelt Videos, Exclude from Top Posts, Grief/Loss, Seasonal, Uncategorized

This Christmas season, with the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting lives, Dr. Wolfelt shares a poignant message of hope and healing despite the unique challenges this year has forced upon us. With compassion and kindness, Dr. Wolfelt shares grieving tips and suggestions that will help you make it through. Click below to hear his message and may you find hope and healing this holiday season.

How to Create a Memory Capsule

By Grief/Loss, Memorial

Sometimes, words aren’t enough to fully express what you feel or say what you mean. In the times when words are inadequate, participating in healing rituals and actions plays a key role in helping you grieve well and express what can’t be said. One healing action you might consider – either for yourself or your entire family – is creating a memory capsule.

What is a Memory Capsule?

Similar to a time capsule, a memory capsule is a container that holds precious mementos, photos, notes, and other memorabilia associated with a loved one. Once the capsule is complete, you hide it away until a specified time. Then, either alone or together with family, you open the capsule, remembering the person you love and sharing those cherished memories with each other.

But why should you consider a memory capsule? Remembrance is a key part of grieving well and creating a memory capsule is one way you can remember, reminisce, and embrace your loved one’s life. It will allow you to gather some of your most treasured items and put them in one place. You can go back to the capsule as often as you wish, or you can wait a specified amount of time. Regardless of what you decide, when you open the box, tender memories will flood you with love and help you lovingly remember and grieve for the person you’ve lost.

How to Create a Memory Capsule

With a few simple steps, you can create both a memory capsule and a meaningful activity for your family.

1. Determine where you’ll store the capsule.

First, you must decide where you will be storing the capsule. Whether you decide to store it indoors or outdoors will affect what kind of container you use and what types of items you place inside. So, before you can really begin, you need to determine how you plan to store your memory capsule. Also, select a person to take charge of the capsule. This person will be responsible for storing the container and bringing it out of storage at the appropriate time.

2. Choose your container.

Once you’ve determined where you plan to store your capsule, it’s time to select the type of container you intend to use. If you are planning to keep the memory capsule indoors, then you could select a box, a plastic container, a jar, or some other container that is easily storable.

However, if you plan to keep the capsule outside or you intend to bury it, there are a few things to consider. For outdoor safekeeping, find a container that is non-biodegradable, like something made of metal. Water, dirt, pressure, and critters won’t be friendly to your capsule so make sure that it’s strong, weather-proof, and watertight.

If you are making this a family activity, discuss together what kind of container you’d like to use.

3. Decide what to include.

Next, it’s time to decorate your container (if you wish) and gather your memories. Since this activity is meant to be part of a healing ritual, you might write a note expressing what you miss about them. Record a favorite memory. Gather photos, drawings, trinkets, clothing, or other cherished items. Find the items that are meaningful to you and place them in the container. With kids, have them write a note or create a drawing for the capsule. You could even write a note to your future self, saying what you’re feeling now and where you hope to be when the capsule is opened.

If you are planning to store your capsule outdoors, consider using good paper and permanent ink. Try not to use paper clips, staples, or rubber bands because they will rust or break with age. Consider placing photos and other paper items into plastic sleeves to further protect them.

WARNING: Make sure you don’t include flammable materials or anything else that may cause damage, such as liquids, food products, matches, or lighters.

4. Set a date.

Typically, capsules are left closed for several years, but you can do whatever works best for your family. For example, if you are putting together a memory capsule for a lost loved one’s birthday or at Christmas or Thanksgiving, you can open it the following year or several years down the road. The most important thing is to select a time frame and make sure that everyone participating knows what the time frame is. That way, each person can tailor their offerings to meet the time frame, if that’s needed.

5. Seal your container and store it.

Once everyone has had a chance to add their personal contributions to the memory capsule, all that’s left is sealing the container and storing it away until your agreed upon date. If you’ve made the memory capsule a family activity, make sure to gather everyone together (or use a video call) to make sure everyone is included in the sealing. You can even write a “Do not open until” date on the outside. For extra protection, seal the container with tape or a lock.

Before you disperse, give each other hugs and best wishes. This activity is not only about healing from your loss but about finding support in each other as you all mourn the loss of someone you love.

Continuing Your Grief Journey

Now, all you have to do is wait until the agreed upon date and do the work of grief. While creating a memory capsule will help you participate in a healing ritual and remember your loved one, it’s not a “one-and-done” kind of thing. As you grieve, you will need to continue to talk about your loss, participate in healing rituals (like journaling, attending a funeral or memorial, lighting candles, praying, etc.), and face the grief you feel.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, says this about grief: “From my own experiences with loss as well as those of thousands of grieving people I have companioned over the years, I have learned that we cannot go around the pain that is the wilderness of our grief. Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes shuffling along the less strenuous side paths, sometimes plowing directly into the black center.” So, as you confront your emotions head on, you will begin to actually deal with them and find a way to move toward healing and eventually reconciliation.

Just remember, you’re not alone on the journey. Lean on your loved ones. Talk to your family and/or friends. While they may not always understand what you’re thinking or feeling, they love you and can be a source of support through the grief journey ahead. Take your time – there’s no rush. You are never going to “get over” the loss of someone you love, but you can learn how to move forward and find renewed purpose and meaning in life. It may seem impossible right now, but as you do the work of grief, it will happen, little by little. Best of luck on your journey!

Death & Social Media: 10 Dos and Don’ts for Social Platforms

By Grief/Loss, Technology and Grief

While social media lets us communicate with each other quickly and efficiently, it’s also a place where people seem to forget the social etiquette that governs our face to face interactions day in and day out. People often type things they would never say in a group of friends or at a family gathering, and those thoughtless words often hurt others, especially when it concerns the death of a loved one. But we can do better.

Below, we will discuss 10 Dos and Don’ts for discussing death and loss on social media platforms and how you can be a positive contributor to friends and family going through the loss of a loved one.

1. DO Wait for the Family to Post First

Always, always, always wait for close family members to announce the death before you post ANYTHING on social media about a death. If you aren’t a close family member (parent, spouse, sibling), it’s not your place to make the announcement unless you’ve been asked to do so. By waiting, you show your respect to the family and give them time to alert all family members personally about the death. Otherwise, some family members might hear about the death through social media.

Additionally, discussing the death online before the family does may add extra grief and stress to the family. They may not have planned to announce anything on social media at all, and now, you’ve forced them into a situation where they may receive many comments, private messages, phone calls, emails, and questions. This adds unnecessary complications to an already emotionally distressing time. And if the family never posts online, show your support by refraining from posting anything yourself or by at least waiting until the funeral has already taken place.

2. DO Get the Facts Right

If the family has made the death announcement, and you decide to post on social media, make sure that whatever information you share is correct, not hearsay or gossip. For example, you may have heard that the death was suicide-related, but that’s actually false. Not only is this mistake mortifying, it’s also traumatic for any family or friends who may believe your post.

Before sharing any facts, ask yourself two questions: 1) Did I receive my information from a close family member and know that it’s true? and 2) Am I the person to share this information or is there someone else more appropriate? If you aren’t sure, err on the side of caution and don’t post anything you can’t verify.

3. DO Consider the Best Way to Offer Condolences

It’s natural to offer condolences after a loss, but carefully consider how you go about offering your condolences. Consider your relationship to the deceased and to any immediate family members. Also, consider how you received the news of the death.

If you received the news on social media, offer condolences on a social media platform or an online memorial page. If you received a phone call or text, respond in kind. However, if you learned about the death online but would like to talk to someone, consider waiting to call. The family is dealing with the stress of planning a funeral and the emotional toll of losing a loved one. If every person called, it would be overwhelming in the first days following a loss. Instead, write a letter, send a text message, or private message to offer your condolences and then follow-up with a phone call at a later time, when things have calmed down a bit.

A final note – consider whether your condolences will bring comfort or further pain. If you have a poor, strained, or even volatile relationship with the grieving family, hold off on any contact. Put the family’s needs above your own desire to offer condolences and either say nothing or wait until emotions have settled.

4. DO Check Your Settings

As with anything on social media, be mindful of your audience. This is especially true when discussing death because it can be a very sensitive topic, especially if the cause of death is still under investigation or due to tragic or difficult circumstances. Before posting, carefully consider who all may see your post. Is there anyone you should block from being able to see it, like children or employers? Adjust your settings as needed or simply re-think whether your post is necessary at all.

5. DO Stop, Re-read, and Think Before You Post

As with anything you write, it’s always good practice to stop, read it again, and think before you hit send or post. By pausing, you give yourself a moment to look at what you’ve written with new eyes. Are you feeling very emotional and saying something you will regret later? How will any grieving friends or family feel after reading your message? Have you shared information that’s best kept private? Always use your best judgment before putting your words out into the world.

6. DON’T Be Nosy

We are all naturally curious people. Often, we simply want to know what happened, especially with an unexpected death. But ultimately, the family’s need for privacy is more important than any sense of curiosity. You can certainly hunt around on different social platforms or use a search browser to find whatever information you can, but refrain from asking the family questions or sharing anything you find online. Whatever the family wants others to know, they will share in person or on social media, and that should be enough.

7. DON’T Use Clichés or Platitudes

Too often we just don’t know what to say in the face of death, and that’s okay. For example, instead of saying, “They’re in a better place” or “I’m sure they wouldn’t want you to be sad,” find ways to offer genuine care and sympathy. For instance, “I’m so sorry this has happened” or “My heart hurts for you; I’m so sorry” would be better options. Strive to be tasteful and kind in your comments, offering the family encouragement and support.

For more help with phrases NOT to say to a grieving person, read 6 Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person and 6 MORE Thing You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person.

8. DON’T Share Too Many Personal Details in Your Comments/Posts

This goes back to taking the lead from the family. If you know some details about the death that the family hasn’t shared, keep them to yourself (unless it involves a crime). If the family prefers not to discuss certain details online, honor their wishes by limiting the information you share. You definitely don’t want to infringe on the family’s privacy or try to pry sensitive and possibly painful details out of the family.

9. DON’T Constantly Tag the Deceased Person

While your intentions may be good, constantly tagging a lost loved one in online posts could be difficult for others to see. While sharing an image or a post or a video that reminded you of the person who has died might bring you a moment of peace, it could be harmful or disrespectful to the family as they grieve. It’s not that you can never tag the person – simply keep it to a minimum and be respectful and sensitive in your wording. After all, the image will still mean something special to you and remind you of the person you loved even if you never post it. For other ideas on how to keep a loved one’s memory alive, click here.

10. DON’T Make it About You

When you offer condolences online, try not to bring up your own personal hurts. Instead, keep the focus on your friend or family members. You may feel tempted to engage in “troubles talk” to find common ground with the other person so that you can, in some way, share the loss. But by talking about your own troubles, you turn the focus to your pain, not theirs. While you may have suffered a similar loss, it’s not the same. Different people, different relationships, different dynamics, different grief. Focus on offering words of support and encouragement. If they ask about your own loss, then feel free to share, but let them open that door.

Sometimes Offline is Better

While social media is great in so many ways, it’s not the place to work out your grief. If you have specific questions about the death or want to make a deeper connection with a member of the deceased’s family, take time in real life to do that. Some topics and discussions are just better and more appropriate in person or in private (whether that’s an email, a letter, or a phone call).

But no matter what you decide to do, remember that the family is going through a tough time. They need your support, your kindness, your encouragement, and your grace. Look for ways to offer your sympathy. Offer your gifts and talents as a resource. The family is embarking on the beginning of a journey through grief, and they need all of their kind and caring friends along the way.

10 Myths About Grieving You May Believe

By Grief/Loss

Have you ever thought one thing and then found out it was completely wrong? It’s safe to say this has happened to everyone. We often get our understanding of grief from other people, television, or even society, and sometimes, it’s not entirely accurate. So today, let’s remove the cobwebs from your understanding of grief and talk about a few myths.

Myth #1: Grief is a burden.

It’s hard to argue with your emotions, but in many cases, they don’t tell you the full story. While grief may feel like a burden when you’re going through it, the emotions you’re feeling are actually healthy and a good sign.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor, author, and educator, puts it this way: “Love and grief are two sides of the same precious coin. One does not – and cannot – exist without the other. People sometimes say that grief is the price we pay for the joy of having loved. This also means that grief is not a universal experience. Grief is predicated on our capacity to give and receive love. Some people choose not to love, and so, never grieve. If we allow ourselves the grace that comes with love, however, we must allow ourselves the grace that is required to mourn.”

So, grief is not a burden. It’s the natural result of having loved deeply and wholly – something we all seek and need to live full lives.

Myth #2: Grief goes away. / Time heals all wounds.

As nice as it would be to say that time will heal your wounds and that your grief will one day go away, it’s simply not true. But take heart! At the beginning of the grief journey, your grief feelings are front and center. However, as you do the work of grief and incorporate the loss into the story of your life, your feelings of grief will decrease in intensity.

Grieving isn’t about “getting over” the loss; it’s about finding a way to move forward. There will be moments, even years down the road, when tears will come to your eyes, and that’s okay. Your feelings of love for that person will never go away, so there will always be a part of you that misses them and grieves their absence.

Myth #3: Grief and mourning are the same thing.

Though both grief and mourning are associated with the death of a loved one, there’s a difference between them. Grief refers to your internal thoughts and feelings. Mourning, on the other hand, is a shared, social response to loss. In other words, we mourn by taking our internal grief and turning it into actions.

The funeral is an excellent example. At a funeral service, you come together with other mourners to offer support, share stories, mark the significance of a life, and find personalized ways to honor your loved one’s memory. As human beings, when we don’t find ways to outwardly express (mourn) what we feel on the inside (grief), complications can occur, often resulting in a longer period of intense grief. Finding a way to express what you feel is an important and necessary part of grieving well.

Myth #4: There’s a set time frame for grief.

You may have a well-meaning friend or family member who’s encouraging you to “get over it” because “enough time has passed.” In truth, there’s no set time frame for grief. It takes the time it takes. Ultimately, the journey toward reconciliation – learning how to move forward – often depends on the type of loss and the depth of the relationship.

As long as you are actively doing the work of grief – engaging with your emotions, talking through your loss, and finding ways to honor your loved one’s memory – you will find your way to reconciliation.

Myth #5: Grief is the same, regardless of the loss you experience.

In some ways, it’s easier to relate to someone who has gone through a similar loss, but to say that the grief is the same is untrue. Even if two women have each lost a husband, they are individual people with unique personalities and ways of coping. While both women lost a spouse, they will deal with the loss differently based on their unique personalities, their background, their support group, and even the type of relationship they shared with their spouse. When you take all of these factors into account, there is no way that grief can be the same from person to person even if the type of loss falls into the same category.

People may experience similar emotions – sadness, anger, relief, regret, guilt – but even the expression of these emotions varies from person to person. Every grief journey is individualized and should be handled with kindness and compassion.

Myth #6: Moving forward with your life means forgetting your loss.

While the ultimate goal of the grief journey is to find a way to move forward, this doesn’t mean you will forget about the person you love. They are forever a part of you, and you were shaped in some way by your relationship with them. Moving forward is about finding continued meaning and purpose in life following your loss.

Rest assured – learning to live again won’t make you forget your loved one. In fact, living through loss gives you an even greater appreciation for the time you shared and a desire to cherish the time you have left with living loved ones.

Myth #7: There are five stages of grief.

More than likely, you’ve heard of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s theory about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This theory puts a nice tidy ribbon on a fairly complex human experience, but unfortunately, it’s been taken wildly out of context. Kubler-Ross’s research was focused on the grief stages that patients go through following a terminal diagnosis. Over time, her research on a very specific form of grief has been taken far beyond its original intention.

That said, grief isn’t quite so simple. Your emotions may be all over the place and come in no particular order. While it would be nice to have a formula for grief, it simply doesn’t exist. You feel what you feel when you feel it, and all you can do is work through it when it comes.

Myth #8: There’s a right way to grieve.

We’ve already established that every grief journey is different because every person and relationship is different. The same principle holds true for how you express your grief. For some, crying is the way to go. For others, it’s writing, walking, running, painting, or using a punching bag. There’s no “right” way to respond to loss. If you need to cry, cry. If you never cry, that’s okay, too. Simply find what helps you release the emotions you feel inside – whatever that looks like.

Also, though it may be a temptation, don’t try to “be strong” for those around you. There may be moments when you need to keep your emotions in check, but as soon as you can, find a safe place to release what you’re feeling and embrace it. Dr. Wolfelt tells us that, “You don’t get to go around or above your grief. You must go through it. And while you are going through it, you must express it if you are to reconcile yourself to it.” So, face what you feel and grieve in the way that is most beneficial for you.

Myth #9: It’s wrong to feel certain emotions after a loss.

Perhaps it’s an innate response, but there are certain emotions that you may feel an aversion to following a loss. Mainly, anger, guilt, regret, or relief. However, if you’ve felt these emotions, rest assured that you’re not alone, and these are completely normal reactions to loss.

You may feel angry that your loved one didn’t take better care of themselves. You may feel guilty about the final words you spoke to them. Regret may fill you because you didn’t call or visit more often. You may feel relieved because an illness or difficult relationship are over. Depending on your relationship to the person who has died, any of these are natural reactions to loss. So, don’t beat yourself up over what you feel. Take time to work through it and give yourself some grace for the journey.

Myth #10: Grief is reserved for the passing of a loved one.

While we most often associate grief with the death of a loved one, this is not always the case. You can feel grief about a variety of things. Loss of a relationship. Loss of a pet. The loss of independence, a home, a job, or your health. Each one of these situations – and so many more – can bring out feelings of grief and loss. And just as with the loss of a person, you must work through your emotions and find a way to move forward with meaning and purpose.

Well, that’s it! Did you learn something you didn’t know before? Hopefully, debunking these myths has given you a rounder and clearer vision of what grief is and why it’s such an important aspect of human nature. While grief is hard, it’s the clearest indicator that you loved someone or something deeply, and love is a beautiful thing.

Reducing Your Christmas Stress During Times of Grief

By Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Grief/Loss, Seasonal

Grief can be exhausting – mentally, physically, and emotionally. And Christmas, even though it’s often a joyful and festive season, has its share of stresses, especially during times of grief when it’s a battle to do the normal everyday tasks. So, what can you do this season to reduce your Christmas stress while you process your grief?

Before we move into a few tips, remember that whatever you’re feeling is normal. You’ve lost someone you love, and it’s hard. You may feel a wide range of emotions, including sadness, shock, denial, guilt, anger, or even relief. No matter what you’re feeling, these emotional responses are normal and natural. All you need to focus on is taking care of yourself through the holiday season so that you have the energy you need to process what you feel and begin the journey toward healing.

Tips for Reducing Your Christmas Stress

Your feelings may tell you to skip Christmas altogether this year, but before you make any big decisions, take some time to evaluate what changes you can make to keep things simple while also taking your loved ones’ needs into account.

For example, you may decide not to attend your work party, but instead, you go out to lunch with your closest office friends. Or, instead of getting individual gifts for everyone, you get gift cards instead. There are little changes you can make that will make your life easier while also ensuring that your family and friends still get to enjoy your presence during the holidays.

Here are a few tips for reducing your holiday stress:

Keep Things Simple

You may normally go all out for Christmas, but this year, give yourself permission to take it easy. With a few adjustments, you can take a task or event from stressful to simple.

  • If the stores are too crowded and holiday shopping is stressing you out, do your shopping online or cut back on the number of gifts this year. Or, after talking to your family, consider skipping gifts altogether this year and picking up next year.
  • If signing and sending holiday cards is too much, skip it this year. People will understand.
  • While putting up all the Christmas decorations usually brings a sense of joy, the thought may be stressful this year. Consider minimizing (or even skipping) the decorations if it seems like too much.

Don’t Overcommit

The Christmas season is often filled to the brim with events, parties, get-togethers, recitals, concerts, family gatherings, and more. You may not have the energy to go to everything, and that’s okay. Choose the most important events and pass on the rest.

As you prioritize events, make sure to talk to your family about your plans so they know when to expect you and when not to. This way, they can let you know what’s important for them – maybe a child’s recital – and you can plan ahead for the events you will attend. Plus, communicating your plans to family and taking their requests into account will help soothe any ruffled feathers and keep things relaxed.

Accept Help

If you’re like many of us, you learned early that it’s good to be independent and self-reliant. And while these two things are not inherently bad, we can sometimes take them a little too far, refusing help when we actually need it. So, this Christmas, don’t be afraid to accept a little help. Let people support you through this time of grief. Accept casseroles, offers to run errands, and assistance with household chores. It will only make things less stressful and easier for you.

Practice Self-Care

Grief takes a toll on us, and it’s important to find ways to take care of ourselves. That means getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, pampering yourself every so often, and not overdoing it. At Christmas, self-care may be splurging on a gift for yourself, going to the golf range or the day spa, or simply spending quiet time alone to journal, meditate, listen to music, or take long walks. No matter what it is that helps you relax and feel cared for, take time to do that this holiday season.

Express Your Feelings

You may be tempted to push down your feelings and power through the holidays but try to resist the temptation. Instead, build opportunities for reflection into your holiday season. Make time to express yourself. This could mean journaling, painting, talking with friends or family, or attending a grief support group. There will be times when your grief shows up unexpectedly, and that’s okay. People will understand if you’re teary. But by intentionally taking time to address your emotions, you can better confront and reflect on what you feel on your own time and on your own terms.

Honor Your Loved One’s Memory

This year, you’re missing someone special. Rather than ignoring their absence, consider finding a special way to honor their memory. Avoiding the elephant in the room – your grief and loss – may lead to feelings of stress. By openly honoring a loved one, you will have the freedom to include your loved one’s memory in the festivities without reservation.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Save a seat for them at the table
  • Create a remembrance item
  • Serve their favorite dish
  • Play their favorite Christmas tunes
  • Pull out the family photos and reminisce
  • Visit the graveside and leave a wreath, poinsettia, or memento
  • Continue one of their favorite traditions or incorporate a new one in their honor

While remembering your loved one may bring moments of sadness, there will be joy in finding ways to make them a special part of the season.

Let this Year be Different

If you’re someone who wants everything just-so, one big way to reduce your holiday stress is to let things be different this year. Let go of the need for a perfect tree, perfectly wrapped gifts, and the perfectly prepared meal. Give yourself a little grace and some room to breathe. Christmas is different this year; it’s harder. Do what you can to keep things simple.

Now, it’s important to acknowledge that no two people are alike. Some of these suggestions will resonate with you and some won’t. That’s just fine. If having the perfectly trimmed Christmas tree helps you relax, then go all out. If shopping provides a release of tension, do it. You know yourself best, so implement the ideas that work best for who you are.

Just remember – it’s okay to let yourself feel however you feel this Christmas. You don’t have to force yourself to be cheerful, and you don’t have to stop yourself from feeling happy if you enjoy the season. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love or miss the person who is gone; it means that you are human. We are complex beings, and our lives are filled with moments of joy mixed with moments of grief, sometimes both at once! Take time this Christmas season to step back, take care of yourself, and enjoy time with the people you love the most. If you do, you will create sweet memories to cherish in the years to come.