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.
Christmas is a time to come together with loved ones and share in the joy of the season. There’s lots of food, fellowship, and conversations. While this Christmas may look a little different, why not use the conversations you do have to preserve the essence of your loved ones – the stories of their lives, the tone of their voices, and their beloved quirks of habit? Too often, we take our time on earth for granted, and before we are ready, a loved one is gone. With family interviews, you can learn things you never knew before, share a few laughs, and record your family’s one-of-a-kind stories for future generations.
If the idea appeals to you, sit down with or video call your living loved ones this Christmas for an oral history interview. But what is an oral history interview, you may ask? It’s pretty simple, really. Schedule time with someone, ask questions, and record their answers. That’s it!
Why Should I Do This?
First and foremost, it’s a tangible way to show someone you love them. By spending one-on-one time with them, asking questions and sharing conversation, you add value to your and your loved one’s lives. You make them feel loved, appreciated, and important to you. Also, think about what you could learn from your loved one’s successes, or even more importantly, from their mistakes? Did you know that your loved one used to go swing dancing every Saturday night as a young person? Did you know how they felt when their first child or grandchild was born?
People are simple and yet complex. So much of our lives take place internally. By asking questions, you can begin to know your loved ones even more intimately and learn things about them that you may never have known.
Secondly, it’s a practical way to preserve family history for future generations, to discover the stories that bind our families together. In today’s world, so many people are interested in where they came from, what their ancestors were like, and what kind of life they lived. New websites pop up every day related to genealogy and family history. Do you want future generations to know who your loved one was and what their life was like? Take the time necessary to preserve your family’s story.
Thirdly, when the day comes that your loved one is gone, hopefully after a long and fulfilling life, you can take the information you’ve gathered and create a meaningful funeral service. Additionally, if you video your interviews, you will have priceless footage to use in the creation of a special tribute video that will be meaningful for the funeral service but also for future generations of family.
Who Should I Interview?
Whoever you want (but make sure to ask for permission first). You can interview your mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, a next door neighbor, or anyone else. There are no rules that say you can only interview family members, so go all out. Your interest in each person’s life might just make their day.
How Do I Do This?
1. Determine what questions you will ask.
The first step is to decide what questions you want to ask. Thankfully, resources exist online that share in-depth, open-ended questions that you can ask your loved one. There are tips on interview etiquette, how to set goals for your interviews, and how to help everyone be at ease and enjoy the time together.
2. Select a documentation medium.
The second step is to decide what medium you want to use to record your interviews. Some options are:
- Handwrite everything in a special journal
- Type everything on a computer
- Use an audio recording app or other equipment
- Film the interviews using a phone or other equipment
- A mixture of these options or something else that’s easy for you
3. Spend quality time with your loved one.
Lastly, go spend time with your loved one. Start this Christmas Day! If you need more time (and you probably will), talk to them and decide what day and time is best for a chat, whether in person, over the phone, or on a video call. Let the conversation flow naturally. Don’t get hung up on trying to get all your questions answered at once. Just be there and absorb. Remember, you won’t get everything recorded in one sitting. Take your time and have fun!
Yes, Christmas is a time when families come together, enjoy each other’s company, and share laughter and memories. This year, what better way to spread a little cheer to your loved ones than to show an interest and intentionally get to know more about their lives?
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.
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.
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.
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.
After losing a loved one, the holidays can be very difficult for both kids and adults. You and your family may not feel up to all of the Christmas cheer and seasonal festivities, and that’s okay. You need to figure out what’s right for you this year and do that. But no matter what you decide to do, if you have kids who are grieving, consider how you can help them remember the person they love this season through remembrance activities and express what they may be feeling.
Just like you, kids need to be able to express what they feel, and oftentimes, they need a little help. Because they are still developing, they may not always be able to name their feelings as precisely as an adult. That’s why it’s so helpful to provide them with activities and exercises that will help them express what’s on the inside. And who knows? Something you begin this year may become a beloved holiday tradition for years to come.
Here are a few kid-friendly holiday remembrance ideas to get you started:
Put out a Memory Stocking
With a memory stocking or box, the whole family can write down memories or thoughts, share words of love and remembrance, or draw pictures of a favorite memory and then place them in the stocking/box. Then, at some point during the holidays, you can all sit down together and read the notes and spend time honoring your loved one’s memory. Whether you hang an extra stocking, place a memory box in a special place, or dedicate a miniature Christmas tree to notes and photos, the kids can get involved and express what they are thinking, feeling, and missing about the person who has died.
Light a Candle
Candles have long been used to as a symbol for remembrance. Keeping the light burning signifies that the memory of a loved one still shines bright. This Christmas season, consider lighting a candle in honor of the person you’ve lost. You can place the candle in a special place and take turns lighting the candle through the season. This way, everyone has a chance to actively remember the person who has died.
Visit the Graveside
Permanent memorials – like grave markers and plaques – give mourners a place to go to feel close to a loved one who has died. Consider whether a trip to the grave might be appropriate for your family. You can bring a wreath, a poinsettia, notes, drawings, or another meaningful item to leave behind as a token of your love.
If your loved one selected cremation and they were not buried, visit the place where their ashes were released or a place that is particularly meaningful to you. It doesn’t really matter where you go, so long as it’s a place where you feel a sense of closeness and kinship to the person who has died.
Release a Balloon
For this simple idea, all you need are biodegradable balloons and a sharpie. Blow up the balloons, have each person write a special message on their balloon, and then, release them to the sky. This practice is actually more meaningful than you might think, and it’s an easy way to get everyone involved. But remember – get biodegradable balloons that are friendly to the environment.
Enjoy Your Loved One’s Holiday Favorites
Whether it’s watching their favorite Christmas movie, making their signature dish, listening to their Christmas tunes, or driving around to see the best Christmas lights, take time to enjoy some of your loved one’s favorite traditions. Depending on where you are in the grief journey, this may be difficult, so consider what’s best for your family right now.
Just remember – not everyone grieves the same way. While watching that favorite movie might be painful for you, it could be just what your child needs to feel close to the person you’ve lost. Sit down with your kids and decide together which holiday favorites to keep and which to pass on this year.
Create a Holiday Memorial Keepsake
Another option is to sit down with your kids and create a holiday memorial keepsake together. This could be an ornament that they can pull out each year. Or a holiday throw pillow made from your loved one’s clothing. Or a scrapbook filled with holiday memories from years past. No matter what makes sense for your family, you can create a keepsake to bring out every year as a remembrance token. Over time, it will become a sweet piece of your holiday tradition and remind you of the person you love.
Look at Photos Together
Human beings are often very visual beings, and we associate memories with images and items. Sometime this Christmas season, take time to sit down with your little ones and go through family photos. Tell them the stories behind the photos.
Through this activity, you express your own feelings and memories while also helping your children build a more complete picture of the person who has died. Because a child may not have had time to develop a long-term, deep relationship with the person who has died, they will rely on your memories (to a degree) to help them process their own feelings.
Make a Memory Chain
For this activity, cut long, narrow strips of paper in your favorite holiday colors. Then, sit down with your kids to write on the paper. You could write so many things:
- Favorite holiday memories
- What you feel right now
- Things you miss about your lost loved one
- How you felt about your loved one
Then, you can create an interlinking chain to put on the tree, in a doorway, or across the fireplace mantel.
You can do all or none of these remembrance ideas. These are simply suggestions to get you started. No matter what you decide is right for you and your family this year, look for ways to strike the balance between the joy of the season and your feelings of grief. This year isn’t going to look like all the others – that’s for certain – but it can still be sweet and memorable. Don’t pretend that nothing has changed. It has. Instead, find ways to acknowledge that life is different while still allowing your family to find a little joy in the Christmas season.
Missing a loved one during the holidays is hard. The traditions that used to bring you joy may feel a little hollow this year. You may feel an internal (or external) pressure to keep things the same as always. It could be that Thanksgiving was your loved one’s favorite holiday, which only makes everything more difficult.
No matter what level of grief this Thanksgiving brings out in you, there are ways to add meaningful moments that will soothe your heart and help your family remember and honor a much-loved missing member. While the holiday won’t be the same as years before, it can be sweet, poignant, and just what your grieving heart needs.
Ideas for Honoring Your Loved One’s Memory This Thanksgiving
These ideas are intended to spur your own thoughts. Some of these may resonate with you; others may not. That’s okay. Consider incorporating the ones that make sense to you or come up with your own ideas. You could even make it a family exercise and bounce ideas off each other for how to best honor your loved one’s memory.
Share Cherished Memories
Whether it’s over the dinner table, on family walks, during the football game or movie, or as you sit around the living room enjoying each other’s company, take time to share cherished memories. You could talk about memories from Thanksgivings past. Or, you can simply reminisce over the ones that easily come to mind. Bring out the photos and listen as different family members share varied accounts of that family moment. Not only will this be a sweet time to remember your family moments, it will also allow you to talk about your loved one, which is often what we need most after a loss.
Include a Memorial Opportunity at Home
By creating a memorial opportunity, you allow yourself and others to actively engage in a remembrance activity. What this looks like will vary greatly from family to family, but here are a few ideas for creating a memorial opportunity. Set up a small memory tree and encourage everyone to write a note about your loved one and place it on the tree. Create a memory board or table, adding photos and mementos. Make sure to invite your family to bring something to add. Or, you can create a memory capsule, where everyone brings an item to include (photo, souvenir, note, etc.) and then several Thanksgivings down the road, you open it together.
Bring Their Memory to the Table
If it’s best for you and your family, you can make your loved one’s memory a more prominent feature of the day’s festivities. For instance, you can create a centerpiece to grace the table that features loved ones whose memories you want to honor. Give a Thanksgiving toast or prayer. Go around the table and each share something you are grateful for about the person who has died. Leave an open seat at the table in their memory. Pull out your loved one’s recipes and serve the dishes that everyone remembers and loves. Or, place a different photo of your loved one on each place setting and invite everyone to share memories.
Take Action to Honor Their Memory
If you are a person of action, there are things you can physically do on Thanksgiving to honor your loved one’s memory. You could sign up for a Turkey Trot and walk/run in their memory. Or you could watch one of their favorite movies. Attend a remembrance service. Write a message on a biodegradable balloon and then release it to the sky, your message of love floating towards the heavens. Visit their grave or a place that was special to your loved one. Donate food or money in their name, possibly supplying a Thanksgiving meal to a family in need.
Give a Memorial Gift
A final idea to consider is giving a memorial gift. Perhaps you could give each person a photo of your loved one. Make Christmas ornaments from their clothing and place one at each place setting. Then, when Christmas comes the following month, each person has a memorial ornament to place on the tree. If you have the time, you could create a short tribute video with photos and video or audio clips. Then, you can give a copy to each family member. Or, write your loved one’s favorite recipe on cards and give one to each household so they can enjoy the dish in their own homes.
No matter what you decide to do, make sure to take care of yourself amidst it all. Grief is hard and often very tiring. Journal what you are thinking and feeling because there will be moments when the feelings come strongly. If you aren’t a writer, talk to someone or draw or go for a walk or run. Whatever you need to do to work through your feelings. Get plenty of sleep and give yourself permission to experience moments of joy.
This Thanksgiving will be different. That’s for certain. But you can find the balance between moments of grief and moments of joy. Choose a way to honor your loved one’s memory in a meaningful way and let yourself enjoy time and new memories with the people you love, here and now.
As millions around the world celebrate Easter this weekend, marking the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ, it’s intriguing to look at the funeral rituals surrounding his death and the Jewish culture in which he lived. Since the beginning of time, humanity has participated in the funeral – remembering and honoring the lives of loved ones. So, what are some similarities that exist between the ancient Jewish customs of Jesus’ day and those we commonly observe today?
7 Funeral Rituals from Jesus’ Time that Still Exist Today
Because humans are humans no matter when they live, it makes sense that some things are universal across time and culture. Just as we all love, we all grieve and need to take time to care for and honor the dead. So, let’s discuss a few rituals from Jesus’ day that continue to survive the test of time.
1. Preparation of the Body
The first ritual that remains to this day is that every person who has died must be prepared for burial. Today, that typically means washing and possibly embalming. In Jesus’ day, the body was washed and anointed with expensive perfumes, like nard, myrrh, and aloes. Then, the body was wrapped in a shroud, the face covered with a special cloth, and the hands and feet tied with strips of cloth. You can see this practice illustrated in the Bible for Jesus (John 19:38-42; Luke 24: 10-12), Lazarus (John 11:43-44), and Tabitha (Acts 9:37).
In Jesus’ day, a person was typically buried within hours of their death. This was mainly because the hot climate hastened decay, and back then, they didn’t have access to the preservation chemicals we do today. So, very quickly after a death, family, friends, and neighbors came to comfort the family and say their goodbyes. Gathering together was even easier because families often lived in the same town and were not usually spread out like we are today.
For example, Mark 5:21-42 outlines the story of Jairus, whose daughter had died. We know the death was recent for two reasons: 1) When Jairus reached Jesus, he asked Jesus to heal her, implying he believed she was alive, and 2) When the two arrived at Jairus’ home after hearing of his daughter’s death, there were people at his home, already crying over her death. They had come to see her one last time and to mourn with Jairus. Today, we still take part in this ritual, though we now call it a visitation or a viewing, and it no longer takes place in the family’s home but often at a funeral home.
After the living had an opportunity to say their goodbyes, the person who died was carried on a pallet or litter to the grave. The body was carried by loved ones, a sign of affection and love. As they made their way to the grave or tomb, women would wail and throw dust in their hair and a crowd of friends, extended family, and neighbors would accompany the procession to the tomb. Just as ancient mourners did, we have our version of a funeral procession. We have pallbearers who carry the casket to the vehicle, and then together, we travel to the graveside as a symbol of solidarity and support for the grieving family. You see an example of a first-century funeral procession described in Luke 7:12.
After arriving at the grave or tomb, there is evidence to suggest that a eulogy took place. Some ancient tombs in Israel were found to include a circle of benches or a row of seats just outside the tomb. This archaeological evidence, as well as the ancient Jewish custom of “hesped,” make it likely that some type of remembrance took place, whether at the gravesite itself or at another designated time. Like our eulogies today, they would have spoken words of appreciation and love while offering sympathy and kindness to the bereaved family.
5. Permanent Placement
In Jesus’ day, it was a common practice to bury people in tombs. Many families owned a family tomb, where they would lay many of their loved ones to rest over time. You can see this practice described in Matthew 27:57-60 when Joseph of Arimathea lays Jesus’ body in his family tomb. Also, you can see it in the life of Abraham when he purchased a place to bury his wife, Sarah, in Genesis 23, which became a family tomb for future generations.
In Jewish tradition, the body was laid in the tomb, wrapped in cloth and spices. After roughly a year, the family would return to the tomb. They collected the bones and placed them in an ossuary (a small funerary box). They would then place that box in the back of the tomb with other boxes of its kind. In this way, they made room for future generations of family to rest in the same space.
Today, permanent placement is still important; we just do it differently. Now, we often bury our loved ones in cemeteries or scatter their ashes at a special place.
6. A Gathering
Just as important as caring for the dead is caring for the living. After a loved one dies, we need the support of those around us. They help us as we walk down the road of grief. In Jesus’ day, there was often a brief meal following the burial (called the “meal of condolence”), which was prepared by neighbors. For the next seven days, the immediate family remained at home for a period of mourning (Genesis 50:10).
During this time, people visit to offer their support and words of condolence to the grieving family. Today, we do something much the same when we gather following a funeral or memorial service to share a meal, exchange stories about the person who had died, take comfort in each other’s presence, and offer encouragement and words of condolence.
7. Paying Last Respects
As you can see, we still observe many of the same customs as mourners did in the first century. Funeral traditions like these help us mark the significance of a life and begin to heal as individuals and communities. As human beings, we understand today, just as we understood in Jesus’ day, that life is precious and worth celebrating.
No matter what time of the year it is, grief is hard. It involves so many emotions, like sadness, anger, guilt, or relief. The Christmas holiday adds its own complexity to an already full emotional plate. It may feel like you are so filled with grief that you have no room for joy. So, how do you find the balance between grieving a loss and finding joy in the here and now?
Grief is a continual ebb and flow, intense one moment and gentle the next. It’s becoming increasingly understood that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and it takes time to process loss. At Christmas, there will be many reminders of your loss, and you may feel them keenly. That’s okay. That’s normal. While society may tell us that we should always be happy, it’s an unrealistic way to view life and the human heart. Instead of focusing on how to “be happy” this holiday season, let’s instead look at a few tips that may help you find the balance between moments of grief and moments of joy.
Find a special way to honor your loved one
This year, though you may be missing the physical presence of someone dearly loved, you can still bring their spirit to life by finding a special way to honor their memory. You might set a seat of honor for them at the table or create a remembrance item. You could make their favorite dish, bring out a collage of favorite photos, or reminisce about some of your most cherished memories. If Christmas was your loved one’s favorite season, 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.
Don’t ignore what you feel
Because we don’t want to cause others distress, especially at Christmas, many of us may be tempted to ignore our own feelings. While there may be moments when you need to keep your emotions in check, it’s always best to let yourself feel what you feel. Take time to journal, paint, talk, or somehow express what’s going on inside. According to nationally recognized grief author, educator, and counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt, it’s best to “Find a place to be quiet and alone with your thoughts and feelings. In these moments of solitude, learn to check in with yourself about the death. Look your grief in the face and say hello to it.” Only by allowing ourselves to face the pain can we begin to move forward.
Don’t be afraid to say no
At Christmas, it can be easy to fill up the calendar with events. There are family get-togethers, school events, church events, community events, and so much more that may pull at your time and attention. Pay attention to how you feel, and don’t be afraid to say no. Do the things that will bring you the most joy or satisfaction and let everything else slide this year. By carefully planning how you will spend your time, you can ensure that your days are a healthy mix of activities. There’s no need to do everything, but do make sure that you participate in a few things that will bring you delight.
Take care of yourself
Take time this Christmas season to look after yourself. That may mean going to a spa for the day, getting a pedicure, taking a hike, or simply sitting down to read or watch a TV show. Grief is exhausting, and with all the extra demands on our time during the holiday season, it’s important to take time to rest and relax. Prioritize what’s most important to you and your family, and make those specific things happen. If shopping is stressful, give gift cards this year. If you can’t bring yourself to send the annual Christmas cards, don’t be afraid to skip a year. As you take care of yourself, you will find the strength you need to find joy in the sweet moments.
Accept that things are going to be different
When grieving a loss, some may drop all traditions as pointless and painful. Others may try to make sure nothing changes at all. No matter what your inclination, look for middle ground. Things will be different this year, and while it’s not a difference you wanted, there is joy to be found in making new memories and establishing new traditions. Focusing on the flaws of the season will only make you unhappy. If we try to force everything to be the same, we will be inevitably be disappointed. Instead, accept that things are going to be different and make the best of it.
Connect with those you love
The holidays are about spending time with people you love. In the midst of sorrow, we need time to both laugh and cry. It’s not healthy to maintain a constant attitude of grief. While it may feel disloyal at first, experiencing moments of joy while walking through grief is natural and normal. There’s no need to feel guilty. By connecting with those we love, and who love us, we have the opportunity to laugh and cry. We can share our dearest memories, cry over the pain we feel, and then find joy in the fact that we are still surrounded by people who love us.
Look for joy
This holiday season, don’t be afraid to feel joy. Feeling moments of happiness or delight doesn’t mean that you’ve forgotten your loved one. They simply mean that you are human. You are made to feel a multitude of emotions at the same time. Laughter and tears. Joy and sorrow. We are complex beings, and our grief is strong some moments and subtle the next. By allowing yourself to feel both emotions, you can find the balance and truly grasp what it means to live well even in the middle of your grief journey. Life is full of irretrievable moments – don’t miss out on one this holiday season. Embrace it, cherish it, and find the balance.
Many seniors of the older generation spend the holidays alone, which often leads to holiday grief. Even the healthiest seniors must face the consequences of the passage of time, which brings the death of loved ones, decreased energy and mobility, and the loss of independence and opportunities. Some seniors have lost a spouse, their children live far away, or many of their loved ones have already passed on due to illness or old age.
Imagine waking up on Christmas morning, knowing that there is no one to share the holiday with. The focus on family, friends, and togetherness during the holidays can create feelings of loneliness and grief. In a survey conducted by AARP, 67% of adults feel happy when thinking about spending time with family during the holidays. On the flip side, 31% of respondents said that they have felt lonely during the holiday season.
Even though many seniors are facing loneliness and holiday grief this year, we can do something to help. Whether it’s with an older family member or at a local assisted living center or nursing home, you can have a positive influence on the seniors around you. Take a look at these 12 holiday activities and ask yourself which ones you can do to help others this season.
12 Activities to Help Ease Senior Holiday Grief
1. Have a Gift-wrapping Party
Invite a few seniors in your life over to help you wrap gifts for Christmas. You can prepare a few sweet treats and warm drinks to make the time cozier and festive. Also, ask them to bring along any presents of their own so that you can all take part in wrapping gifts together. Even this small gesture can make a big difference in the hearts of those who are lonely or grieving.
2. Sing Carols or Other Christmas Songs
Whether you go to a nearby housing facility or invite people to your home, singing traditional Christmas carols and other holiday songs lifts the spirit. Break out in Joy to the World, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, or Jingle Bell Rock. Choose whatever suits your tastes or ask your guests for song requests. Another option is to gather a group together – adults, kids, or a mix – and go visit those who are homebound or in a nursing facility.
3. Bake Christmas Treats
We all have Christmas favorites. Hand-decorated sugar cookies. Mom’s famous mashed potatoes. That big bucket of fried chicken your family always gets. Or, the smoked turkey Uncle Al makes every year. For most of us, certain foods are associated with Christmas, and for those who are lonely or grieving, it can be renewing to cook (or bake) your Christmas favorites with others. Who knows – you may find a new Christmas favorite.
4. Decorate Together
Part of what makes Christmas so Christmasy is all of the decorations we put up in our homes and workplaces. If you know a senior who is experiencing holiday grief, they may not have the energy to decorate their home, so offer to come over to help them put things up. (Don’t forget to help take them down later.) Or, invite them over to help you decorate your own home for the holidays. Both options will make them feel loved and wanted.
5. Create Christmas Crafts
A fun activity for the holiday is crafting. You can choose whatever kind of craft you want – making a wreath or ornaments, knitting hats and scarves, or creating your own garland with popcorn, paper, or even burlap. There are so many options to choose from that you and the seniors in your life will stay busy all throughout the holidays.
6. Watch Christmas Movies
It’s a Wonderful Life. White Christmas. Home Alone. A Christmas Carol. Around this time of year, families pull out all the old Christmas movies. They sit down together and enjoy the timeless tales again. This year, consider inviting a senior loved one to take part in the movie marathon. Pull out the popcorn, cozy blankets, and Christmas goodies to complete the evening of cinematic fun.
7. Attend a Local Christmas Play
Many schools and local theater groups throughout the country put on theatrical events at Christmas time. Check out what is offered in your area and see if a senior friend would like to attend. Not only would it be an opportunity to get out of the house, the play will likely take their attention away from any loneliness or grief they may feel and fill them up with joy.
8. Take a Drive to Look at Christmas Lights
For some families, taking a drive around town to look at Christmas lights is a yearly tradition. It’s fun, and sometimes entertaining, to see how everyone decorates their homes for Christmas. Load up your family and a few senior friends to go out for an evening drive. Fill the car with Christmas music and take a few holiday snacks. Everyone is sure to end the evening filled with cheer.
9. Host a Christmas Party
If you have the space, you might consider putting on a Christmas party for some seniors you know. Or, you can put together an event for a parent and his or her friends. You can offer delicious dishes to eat, organize a gift exchange, or put together some fun games or competitions. The goal is to have fun and give everyone a holiday event to look forward to attending.
10. Go Out for a Shopping Day
Some seniors are no longer able to drive themselves or go places alone. Offering to go out for a shopping day might be just the thing to lift their spirits. Whether they want to actually buy or just window shop, the opportunity to get out, to see the Christmas decorations for themselves, and to spend time with a new friend is priceless.
11. Ask about Christmases Past
For many older seniors, their mothers, fathers, siblings, and even spouses or children, have already passed on, so there’s no one to create new memories with or recount the old ones. That’s why it’s so sweet to ask a senior about the Christmases they remember. To hear about their family growing up, the antics of siblings and cousins and children, the best and worst years. Asking to hear memories shows love and appreciation for that person as an individual and a friend.
12. Give Back to the Community
Another opportunity to help seniors who are alone or experiencing holiday grief is to invite them to focus on others. Communities all over provide opportunities to give during the Christmas season. Talk to the seniors in your life and ask if they want to take part in Toys for Tots, a canned food drive, Operation Christmas Child, or some other service project in your community. By bringing joy to others, we bring joy to ourselves.
All of these activities will help you engage with seniors who may be struggling this holiday season. Consider which ones you like best and go spread some Christmas cheer!
It’s the Halloween season, and people all over are decorating their homes, buying candy, and making costumes. But for you, this year might be different. Grief may be taking a toll on you emotionally, physically, and mentally. The holiday may be especially difficult for those whose lost loved one truly enjoyed Halloween and called it their favorite holiday.
Rather than hiding for the holiday and wishing it away, why not give it a meaningful twist and take time to honor and remember your loved one’s life, especially if they valued the Halloween holiday? You can fill the holiday with meaningful and positive actions that will help you make it through the day (and possibly bring some joy to others). Think about what your loved one enjoyed most about Halloween – it can be a small yet meaningful aspect – and focus in on that idea, inviting others to join you in making the most of the day and honoring your loved one.
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, says, “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.” One way you can begin to work through your grief is by allowing yourself to feel the pain and expressing your emotions through purposeful, meaningful, and positive symbolic actions.
If you aren’t sure where to get started, take a look at these 8 ideas for honoring a loved one on Halloween. If none of these work for you, that’s okay. You can brainstorm your own ideas that are more fitting for your loved one’s life and memory.
1. Make a Costume
Costumes are a big part of Halloween. If your loved one enjoyed the holiday, you might consider creating a costume that would make them smile. For instance, if they loved Disney princesses, make a costume based on their favorite one. No matter what they loved – Marvel movies, John Wayne, the color red, or cats – think of a way to incorporate it into a costume in their honor.
2. Visit Your Loved One’s Grave
If Halloween was special to your loved one, you might consider taking time to visit their final resting place. Depending on the cemetery’s regulations, you could leave flowers, candy, or even a few seasonal decorations. While there, you can tell your loved one how much you miss them and share your holiday plans.
3. Plan a Halloween Gathering
If the person you are grieving loved a good Halloween party, you might put on a fun celebration or attend a costume party in his or her honor. You could ask some friends over – new ones and old ones – and have an unforgettable Halloween bash. Put together some of your loved one’s favorite treats and add a few of your own. Then, simply enjoy the time of friendship and fun. Afterward, you can write a letter to your loved one or visit a place where you feel close to them and tell them all about it.
4. Participate in a Halloween-Themed Run
If your loved one enjoyed Halloween and also loved participating in runs from 5k’s to marathons, then taking part in a Halloween-themed run might be the perfect fit. You can dress up as your loved one’s favorite character or wear an armband or t-shirt that says, “In Memory Of” and join in the Halloween festivities.
5. Take Part in a Traditional Halloween Activity
Depending on what your loved one liked about Halloween, you might join in on some of the traditional fun to honor their memory. For instance, you may take the family out to go for a hayride, wander through a corn maze, carve a pumpkin, or enter the scary depths of a haunted house. Or, you could stay close to home and give candy to trick-or-treaters. Alternatively, you could take part in a fall festival in your community. Sometimes, choosing to honor a loved one means carrying on old traditions in their memory, even as you enjoy the things they did and make new memories along the way.
6. Bake a Favorite Fall Recipe
If your loved one was a baker, you can honor their memory by whipping up the family’s favorite fall recipe. Whether it’s moist pumpkin bread, ginger snap cookies, pumpkin pie, or candied apples, you and your family can enjoy a tasty fall treat and remember the good times that you had with your loved one.
7. Watch a Scary Movie
Some people love a good scary movie and make a tradition out of watching their favorite flicks every Halloween season. If that was your loved one, grab some popcorn and treats, invite your friends over, and relive all the nail-biting moments that you and your loved one enjoyed together. This is a great time to share memories about your loved one. It also allows you to continue a tradition that he or she really enjoyed.
8. Volunteer at a Halloween-Themed Event
If your loved one was someone who loved Halloween and/or the fall season and also loved helping others, you might choose to volunteer at a children’s Halloween event, pumpkin patch, or fall festival in your community. Getting involved is a great way to honor a loved one’s memory, meet new people, and grow through new experiences.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. Ultimately, what matters most is that you feel good about what you did to remember your loved one. Just because they are gone doesn’t mean you can’t still love and celebrate them for years to come.
However, if Halloween is a more difficult holiday for you and you would like to learn about a few ways you can grieve well during the Halloween season, click here to read Grieving Well During the Halloween Season.
“The only cure for grief is action.” – George Henry Lewes
Grief is hard every day, but it is especially hard on those days throughout the year that we think of as “special.” Valentine’s Day is one of them. The stores are stocked with chocolate and Hallmark cards, and everywhere you look, people are discussing their plans for the day. But for you, Valentine’s Day is a source of pain and tears.
If that’s the case, consider finding a way to reinvent Valentine’s Day. While the day specifically celebrates love, it isn’t relegated to only romantic love. The things and people we love go beyond just romantic relationships. This year, by focusing on bringing joy to others, you will make Valentine’s Day easier on yourself. Who knows, your actions may even help you process your grief. After all, as nationally-respected grief educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt says, “Grief is what you think and feel on the inside after someone you love dies. Mourning is the outward expression of those thoughts and feelings. To mourn is to be an active participant in our grief journeys.”
10 Ways to Reinvent Valentine’s Day
1. Invite friends over for dinner
Celebrate the love of good friends. We all have friends who stick with us through thick and thin, especially during times of grief. So, plan a meal or go out for dinner with some of your closest people, and celebrate what you’ve meant to each other. You could even bring Valentine’s Day into the mix by giving each other sweet treats.
2. Plan a night out with others who have experienced a similar loss
When we experience a loss, finding a support group is incredibly important. One way to seek support is through getting to know others who have experienced a similar type of loss. Instead of staying at home alone, go out with others who are struggling, and together, focus on what’s good in life. An attitude of gratitude is valuable to everyone both mentally and emotionally, so look for the good!
3. Allow your children to pick an activity
If both you and your children are grieving this Valentine’s Day, ask them what they’d like to do for the day. It’s important to give children opportunities for healthy fun even in the midst of sorrow. They may want to go to dinner, the zoo, or a movie. Make sure to manage their expectations by letting them know what kind of budget you have. For example, we can go play putt-putt or eat dinner out, but not both.
4. Attend a group activity
Another opportunity to fill the evening is to attend a group activity – either with friends or with the intention of meeting new people. You could attend a club of some kind (book club, writing club, chess club, etc.), take part in a support group or a prayer group, go to or host a painting party, or see what’s going on in your local community.
5. Participate in random acts of kindness
Perhaps it would do your heart good to focus on others for the day. Random acts of kindness benefit you just as much as the other person. Some ideas to start you off: go ahead and give to the street performer or the homeless person; donate gently used items; leave a larger tip for the barista or server; bring in breakfast for your co-workers; give someone a compliment; or just smile at people. A simple smile brings a large measure of joy.
For some people, taking part in an activity is the most helpful course of action. If that’s the case for you, consider volunteering your time on Valentine’s Day. By focusing on others, you take the spotlight off your feelings of grief. Is there a local organization that you regularly volunteer with or one that you’ve been curious about? This is a great time to give it a try.
7. Send a card or flowers to someone
Even if you are grieving, you can offer a kind gesture to others. Rather than looking to receive a card and/or flowers and chocolate this year, choose someone to give to instead. Perhaps an elderly person living alone or in a care facility, a friend or loved one spending the holiday in the hospital, or someone who is also grieving the loss of a loved one.
8. Treat yourself
Grief is hard work. That’s why Valentine’s Day might be a good day to treat yourself to a little pampering. Go to a spa. Get a manicure or pedicure. Schedule time with a massage therapist. Or if these options just aren’t you, treat yourself to a favorite dessert or a hot beverage you rarely consume, get a new haircut, or buy a new pair of shoes. There are so many ways to care for your own needs.
9. Enjoy some animal therapy
If you love our four-legged friends, spend time receiving love and affection from them on Valentine’s Day. Check out what’s available in your area. For some, an equine therapy program is appealing. For others, a program that allows you to take dogs for walks, pet and play with cats, or just help out around the shelter is best. And, if you’re able, you could adopt a furry friend and give it a forever home.
10. Travel somewhere
A final way to reinvent the holiday is to inject a bit of excitement into it. Rather than sitting at home, plan a trip for yourself to a new place. Invite friends or go on your own. A change of scenery will be a nice change of pace and give you some relief from the difficult work of grief.
This Valentine’s Day, find a new way to view the day. Give to others. Pamper yourself. Spend time with friends and family or with animals. Or go on an adventure! No matter what you choose, the day doesn’t have to be gloomy and sad. Even if the loss of your loved one is still close to the surface, it’s okay to find little ways to experience joy in life. While your life will never be the same, it can be beautiful.