The holidays can be one of the most difficult times of the year to manage grief with the festive season often making the loss of a family member more painful. VNA’s chaplain Kathleen Stock has been working at VNA for over 17 years, and she explains that a family member's death changes the expectations of the holidays.
“Holidays are filled with expectations of how things should be,” said Stock. “When there’s a death of a loved one those expectations are changed, because that person is no longer a part of that experience.”
Stock encourages families to find someone else to inherit some of the jobs or the traditions that loved one carried out to hold onto his or her memory. Planning ahead for the holidays is also a way to prepare for a period of grief. Stock says that the healthiest way to respond to bereavement during the holidays is to know that you can do things differently.
Stock shared a story about a personal period of grief where she decided to volunteer at a homeless shelter and service food on Thanksgiving instead of having dinner with her family.
“It was very humbling and it was also very good for me,” said Stock, explaining that she didn’t want to sit across from family members and pretend everything was okay.
A few of Stock’s tips for families struggling with grief are to hold a family meeting, acknowledge your grief, figure out how others can help you, and be around people that understand your grief. She also noted that you should give yourself permission to take it easy and focus on the things you want to do during the holidays. Setting limits for yourself can be very important for dealing with the flood of emotions during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Stock cautions families in bereavement about dwelling too long in their loss over the holidays for their own emotional health.
“Memories are okay, but if that’s where we dwell and it’s not with a sense of joy and gratitude for what has been, then we are going to be very, very sad,” said Stock.
She encourages families though to honor their loss and honor the grief. Acknowledging the pain and the way your family has changed due to a loved one’s death is essential to move through the stages of grief. A few ways to remember a loved one who has died in a healthy way is by sharing family photos, making a donation to the family member’s favorite charity or to telling stories about that family member.