3 Tips for Handling Not-So-Happy Holidays

The radio may be playing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” on repeat, but for many, the holiday season can be much less than merry.

The holiday season brings up different emotions for different people, and for some, it can be a terribly hard and lonely time of year. 

“The holidays can magnify feelings of loss. Remember to be kind to yourself, and give yourself space to feel your feelings as they come,” shared Hannah Brown, LSMW, Program Director at Ele’s Place Ann Arbor. “Many people feel pressured to ‘join in’ during the holiday season, even when they don’t feel ready to do so. It’s perfectly OK to join in, opt out, or change your mind at any point.”

If you know someone who is processing a recent loss, feeling the magnitude of a now empty seat at the table, or struggling through a close relationship, it’s important to make space for grief in its many forms. Remember these helpful tips and offer compassion and kindness to grieving loved ones this holiday season

3 Tips for Making Space for Grief During the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Check-in often

When we lose someone close to us, the first year is always the hardest. It is the first time we experience shared traditions without that person and the absence is painfully clear. 

Check-in often with the bereaved. While it may have been months since the funeral, it may be a new “first” which makes the pain all too fresh. 

Offer to visit, share in conversation and be specific when offering help. Instead of “let me know what I can do” try “I’ll check-in on Sunday about bringing dinner.”

Continue to Extend the Invitation. 

Invite the bereaved to join you at holiday events, especially if they would otherwise be alone. However, do respect their wishes if they decline. 

Should they decline, let them know that the invitation is open if they change their mind, and that it will still stand when they are ready.

Reassure them that they are a welcomed, valued, loved and supported member of your community. 

Meet them where they’re at

Match tone and behavior to the bereaved. Now may not be the time to suggest a rowdy party game if the atmosphere is quiet and somber. However, if their mood seems light it could be what they need. 

Pay attention to body language, tone and behavior and follow their lead. Meet them where they’re at and hold a safe space for the range of feelings they may be experiencing.

The way we experience holidays changes and evolves overtime, especially as family dynamics change with loss. Follow the lead of the bereaved, and don’t shy away from mentioning the deceased. They may let you know that they’re not ready to talk about it, or they may want to share stories and memories of the individual. If appropriate, share happy memories and stories that underpin how much the person meant to you. Ask what their favorite tradition was, if there’s a way to incorporate it into this year’s celebration, and acknowledge their absence.

“At Ele’s Place Ann Arbor, we encourage our families who have experienced a death to decide together how they want to approach the holidays by considering which traditions they want to hold onto, let go of, scale back on, or do they want to create new traditions all together,” said Brown. 

Moving through grief is a personal experience for each individual. If you are in a situation where you are supporting a bereaved friend or family member, remember that compassion, grace and a safe space to grieve are the most important gifts you can give this holiday season. 

About Ele’s Place Ann Arbor

Ele’s Place is a non-profit, community-based 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to creating awareness of and support for grieving children, teens and their families throughout Michigan, with Branches located in Ann Arbor, Flint, Lansing and Grand Rapids. 

Ele’s Place is dedicated solely to helping children and teens work with and through grief in a peer-to-peer group setting. The organization’s vision is that no child or teen should have to grieve alone. For more information, please visit the Ele’s Place website. If you need assistance or have questions about grief support for children and teens in Ann Arbor or the surrounding southeast Michigan area, please reach out to the Clinical Program Staff at Ele’s Place Ann Arbor by calling 734-929-6640.

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