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By: Dave Roberts

The pain of grief tends to surface with great intensity during “milestone” events. Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays are typical events that are associated with our grief journeys. The intensity of grief is usually highest for many during the first year that these milestone events are experienced. However, people will experience the pain of varying intensity during these milestone events beyond the first year. There is no timetable to resolve grief and in many cases; journeys are lifelong. Experiencing pain at any time during the process is to be expected.
Under normal circumstances, preparing for any holiday can be stressful as well as tiring. When a loved one dies, completing these holiday tasks become complicated by the intense pain of grief and the physical, emotional, and cognitive changes that accompany it. Our grief may be so painful that we question whether to celebrate the holidays at all. We may also experience challenges with what traditions to keep or which ones to change or eliminate. We may also struggle with ways to keep our deceased loved ones’ memories alive and the reactions from others who may not understand our pain.

There are no sure solutions as to how to prepare for the holidays, but here are some things that may be helpful:
* Educate yourself by reading books or articles on grief and attending a lecture on coping with the holidays.
* Identify strengths or strategies that helped you adjust to previous losses in your life. These may be losses related to death or losses not related to death (e.g., divorce). Try to develop as much support from family and friends as you can. Tell them that the holidays may be emotionally and physically draining for you, and how they can best help you during this time.
* Set priorities! Save your energy for the most important things.
* Don’t suppress sadness or anger; these are normal emotions experienced after the death of a loved one.
* Be careful with the use of alcohol and medications, either separately or together.
* Delegate! Let others share the workload by preparing food and helping with decorations.
* If you aren’t up to a large family affair, have a scaled down gathering with a few close family members and friends.

Here are some suggestions to help you keep the memories of your loved ones alive, during the holiday season (and all-year-round)
* Hang a stocking for your loved one. It can hold small gifts from him or her (shopping done by you) to each family member.
* At a family gathering, place a decorated box or basket near the door. As people arrive, ask them to write a remembrance on a piece of paper and leave it there. At some point during the day, read those remembrances. It can comfort you and encourage others to share remembrances as well.
* Get out a box of pictures and start looking at them. People will not be able to resist making comments and sharing stories.
* Light a special candle
* Volunteer at a local organization that had meaning for you and your loved one.

Others may have difficulty saying the name of your loved one for fear of upsetting you or because they are uncomfortable with their own feelings. You may decide to initiate the discussion of your loved one and may be hesitant to do so because it may be very painful. That is completely understandable, but the pain may be lessened or replaced by joy due to some wonderful shared memories. Plus, we want to say and hear the names of our loved ones.

The anticipation of the holiday season and the days leading up to it may be more stressful than the actual day. Also, if there are certain holiday functions that you don’t have the emotional strength to confront, it is ok to avoid them. We need to be empowered to take care of ourselves during challenging times.

The preceding is from Mourning Discoveries: A guide to help families navigate through grief towards healing: During the Holidays by Dave J. Roberts and Linda B. Findlay Copyright 2009. All rights reserved

Dave Roberts, LMSW is a retired addiction professional and an adjunct professor of psychology at Utica College. He is a Huffington Post contributor and a speaker on grief and loss locally and nationally. Dave is also the chapter leader for The Compassionate Friends of the Mohawk Valley. Dave may be contacted at bootsyandangel@gmail.com

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