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Coping With Grief During the Holidays

It can be hard handling the holidays – especially if you’re trying to process grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one.

But there are ways to make it through this season.

That’s not to say there’s a magic wand available to make your sadness vanish. But strategies and coping mechanisms do exist that can be put into place to make the holidays a little less stressful, even though you’re recovering from a loss.

“One of the first things to realize is that grief is a continuum,” says Ashley Huisman, bereavement coordinator for Emmanuel Hospice. “So, while one person might react very stoically and without a lot of tears, another might be extremely emotional.

“The important thing is not to judge; we don’t know what anyone is dealing with internally in that moment.”

Another thing to consider, says Huisman, is that not everyone processes grief according to the so-called five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, despair and acceptance.

“Grief isn’t a standard, cookie-cutter type of thing,” she says, noting it’s just as common to bounce between these stages or even skip one as it is to follow them in a linear way.

Huisman offers the following tips on how to cope with grief at the holidays:

• Manage expectations. Just because you’ve always been relied upon to bake that fancy dessert, the grief you’re feeling might compel you to pass this year. Even at the risk of thinking you’re letting someone down, take care of yourself first. “Pick out the tasks or customs,” says Huisman, “that have the most meaning for you.”

• Make time for yourself. “Take a nap,” says Huisman. “Listen to music. Try to be reflective. Or even try to not remember for a while what you’re dealing with. The important thing is to check in with yourself and be sure you’re getting what you need.”

• Give to get. When grief overwhelms, make a conscious effort to support others. It can help you create perspective and focus on another’s needs. Says Huisman, “It’s giving your heart a break.”

• Memorialize your loss. Create a special ornament that honors the person gone. Continue to hang a stocking in their name, and slip a note inside telling them the ways they’re missed. Light a candle. Write a poem. Buy a gift they would have loved and donate it in their name to a cause.

• Reach out for help. Emmanuel Hospice, for example, offers workshops and support groups to help anyone in the community manage grief, regardless of whether they have a prior connection with the nonprofit organization or hospice care.

The nonprofit is offering free “Handling the Holidays” grief support sessions at various locations in the greater Grand Rapids area:
• Monday, Dec. 5 from 1-2 p.m.
• Wednesday, Dec. 14 from 2-3 p.m.
• Monday, Dec. 19 from 10-11 a.m.
• Wednesday, Dec. 21 from 10-11 a.m.

Those interested in joining are asked to contact Emmanuel Hospice if they plan to attend and get more information at 616.719.0919 or RSVPs are welcome up until the day of the event.

In addition to leading support groups, Emmanuel Hospice provides support through counseling, education and referrals to community resources to help individuals cope with all stages of grief before, during and even after the holidays. More information is available at

Though it sounds simplistic, Huisman encourages people grieving through the holidays to “take them one day at a time. Try not to be anxious.

“Most of all,” she says, “look for things that will give you comfort. And let the rest be.”