By Cindy Burdette, MA LPC
The holidays can be an especially difficult time for those who are grieving, especially this year. Whether we have lost a loved one to COVID, or as a result of something else, because of the challenges surrounding funeral services and celebrations of life, we may feel even more at a loss than usual. For many of those who we see at Hospice of the Panhandle’s Center for Grief Support, their goal is simply to “survive” the holidays. One of the things that we as grief counselors do is to help them create their own personal “survival kit.”
Each grieving person’s survival kit may be a little different, depending on their particular situation, need and what they think will be difficult for them.
Below are some ideas of what to include:
Surround yourself – virtually, if need be – with people who understand. Whether that is a support group, family or special friends, make sure you have some time scheduled with these people. And again, this year we can’t gather in the normal ways, but technology has provided us with some helpful tools. The presence and understanding of these individuals will be especially important as you try to navigate this difficult time.
Cherish your happy memories. Choose to focus on happy memories with your deceased loved one and stay away from particularly sad or guilt-producing memories.
Remember your loved one with something special. Try to use things that connect you to your departed loved ones (a recipe, a particular scent, a piece of jewelry or an item of clothing). Even though we no longer have a relationship of presence with them, they are still very much a part of our lives emotionally, spiritually and through our memories. At Hospice of the Panhandle, we have volunteers who will make ‘memory bears’ for Hospice families who have lost a loved one. Those bears have been made of flannel shirts, a special pair of hunting overalls, and even a blanket. Our families who have used this service tell us how much it means to keep this physical remembrance close at hand.
Embrace a spirit of giving. Whether that is a monetary donation or a donation of time, do something to honor the memory of your loved one. It is even more meaningful if it is a cause that was special to them.
Make special plans. This could be related to the holiday season or it could have nothing to do with the holidays. Bundle up and take a walk through a nearby park. Pay a visit to a place that was special to your loved one. It will give you something positive to look forward to.
Write down your thoughts and feelings. Journaling is an effective method to allow you to get in touch with your thoughts and feelings. You can do it the traditional way, using a notebook and pen or you can do it on your computer and password protect your document.
Have compassion – for YOU. It’s OK if you cry more. It’s OK if you are more irritable than normal. It’s OK if you have to say “no” to things. Trust yourself that you are doing the best you can under the circumstances.
Find the right balance. Try to make sure you have both some time by yourself and some time with others. It is important not to totally isolate yourself while also not taxing yourself unnecessarily with trying to do too much.
Make time to remember your loved one. This could be something you do in private, lighting a candle and talking to them or listening to some music they enjoyed. It could also be done as a family, visiting the gravesite or cemetery together and releasing some balloons or sharing favorite memories around a “virtual” meal.
If you are grieving, assemble your holiday survival kit today. You can start with some of the things listed above and then include other things you think may work for you. It will help you prepare for and “survive” the holidays.
Cindy Burdette is a licensed counselor at the Hospice of the Panhandle Center for Grief Support. She has been providing counseling services in the Eastern Panhandle for 27 years. For more information about how Hospice can help your family, call (304) 264-0406 or visit our grief support resources related to the holidays online at https://www.hospiceotp.org/how-we-help-you/center-for-grief-support/anniversaries-holidays/