By Donna Kane, M.A.
Loss and grief touch everyone. It is an inevitable part of being human. How people experience these emotions can be as unique and individual as each and every person.
How do we protect ourselves from the tremendous pain caused by the death of a loved one? It is human nature to want to avoid pain. But in grief, it is better to move toward our pain. The expression “grief work” conveys how difficult this is to do. It is even harder to determine how to embrace your loss and grieve when the holidays are upon us. How do you cope with the empty place at the table?
It is possible, with some thought and planning, to approach the holidays with a different set of expectations- ones that include the opportunity for mourners to find solace and comfort in the customs of our holidays. Even with the heavy burden of grief, it may be possible to look toward the New Year with some expectation of comfort and peace.
The Executive Director of NextSteps, Lee Pollak, LCSW, has suggested the following strategies:
- Plan Ahead: Anticipation can ease the impact of the holiday. Usually, the anticipation is worse than the event. No matter what arises you will be prepared.
- Assess Tradition: Be realistic about what you can handle. Eliminate the pressure of having to do something a certain way because you always did it that way. There are new ways to approach old traditions, so what happens this year does not need to be the blueprint for next year.
- Balance Solitude and Socializing: Grief is exhausting. Allow yourself some time to be alone.
- Acknowledge Memories: Memories are important for healing, and sharing stories promotes a bond between family and friends. There is truth to the saying that “sorrow shared is sorrow diminished.”
- Do Not Accept Silence: In my opinion, this is the most detrimental myth about grief and loss. Sharing stories and memories helps those grieving to feel connected, and therefore, less alone. When family and friends acknowledge the person who has died, it allows the relationship to continue, to “live on” despite the loss. Acknowledge the empty place at the table.
Finally, try to allow yourself to experience comfort and some pleasure as well. Remember that you will not “get over” the death of a loved one. The loss becomes a part of your life and a part of who you are. Most importantly, remember that other people will want to offer support. Be open to accepting help when others reach out. We can come together in our grief and in the hope of a happier and meaningful holiday season.
Donna Kane is a grief specialist for Jewish Community Services.
Through a variety of groups, programs and services, JCS Grief Counselors offer support, guidance, comfort, and hope to people of all ages who are bereaved and trying to cope with the death of someone important in their lives. To learn more about JCS Grief Services, visit jcsbalt.org/griefsupport or call 410-466-9200.