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Dealing with Loss During the Holidays

December 9th, 2016     By Bridget Barnes, Director of Common Sense Parenting at Boys Town

Connecting with Kids, Family

This article was originally featured on Momaha on November 24, 2016. 

There is no denying that the loss of a love one has a significant impact on a family whether it’s the holidays or not.

However, when there is a loss in a family it is normal that a once cherished time of the year can become extremely tough for children and adults to fully enjoy. All around you society is saying you should have a joyful holiday spirit, but you feel only grief.

What can a family do to cope with their feelings of loss and maintain their sense of togetherness especially during the holidays?

 Difficult memories and unresolved emotions can be amplified during holiday traditions when a family has experienced the loss of a love one.

The holidays can also become a time of true reflection and regeneration of a family’s sense of togetherness even when loss has occurred. The main ingredients for this transformation: Time, plenty of patience, a generous helping of support, and — most of all — unconditional love.

After our beloved daughter passed away many years ago, it was needless to say the holidays weren’t the same for us.

We could not pretend to be joyful when our hearts were breaking, but we did not avoid our true feelings. We did not act like we weren’t sad, unhappy and even angry when those emotions bubbled to the top from time to time.

We gave each other permission and the space to have conflicting emotions of happiness and profound sadness. We supported each other and spent a great deal of time together during the holiday season.

This is something we still do twenty-five years later. We have became closer in order to bear our loss.

Now, our holidays are different. We have a renewed sense of togetherness. How did we accomplish reconstructed family traditions?

I would say we used a CARE approach to remind us of how to move forward while looking back.

You must make the effort to connect emotionally, spiritually, and physically during the holidays. Spend time one-on-one or as a group. Whether it is trimming the tree, Wednesday night dinners after bible study or attending a survivor’s retreat to keep in touch, use this time to connect to each other, to yourself and to your memories.

Everyone isn’t the same when it comes to processing their feelings about loss. Accept your own feelings and give each other permission to process and feel the loss and the healing in your own time. When you are unhappy, this doesn’t mean everyone around you should also be unhappy and vice versa.

Be OK with remembering the person or pet you’ve lost. Be OK with the way each family member chooses to remember them which may be very different. Some people will want to talk about their love one; others will want to do something to remember them, while some need time alone to reflect. The key is remembering them in a way that comforts you.

Sometimes just a little support and a kind word can get you through it and propel you forward. Encourage each other as you learn how to form new traditions, stronger bonds and how to accept the change your family has experienced.

You can never go back to how it was when your love one was here, but you can CARE about each other. That is what true traditions are all about: the times we remember we are family no matter what.

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