Grief and the Holidays

By Bonney Elliott on December 21 / 2016

[Cancer, Cancer Coaching, Caregivers, Families]Comments

The holidays can be a challenging time when you have lost someone close to you from cancer. There are so many reminders of their absence.

Cancer Coach Bonney Elliott has shared some ideas for getting through the holidays when you are grieving a loss.  And, if you or a loved one is in need of help over the holidays, Cancer Coaching is available.  The Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation is open throughout the holidays, with the exception of the afternoon of Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.  For more information please contact us or call 613.247.3527.


Focus on just this year.  Next year and each year after, you will be further along in the grieving process. Lower your expectations for yourself this holiday season.

Have a plan.  Decide which holiday events and traditions you want to participate in this year. Focus on what you want to do and what is meaningful to you and your family.  Give some thought ahead of time to how you might feel and what you might do to cope with fatigue and feelings of sadness, loss and anger when they arise. Leave some room to change your plans at the last minute if needed.

Express your emotions. Try and understand your feelings and be true to your own experience. You might want to talk to someone about how you feel, or express your emotions in writing or through creative or physical activity. Remember that other family members and friends may show their grief very differently than you.

Socialize.  It may be tempting to stay home and withdraw from everything.  Make an effort to socialize, even if you only stay at an event a short time.

Reassess holiday traditions. Give some thought to starting a new tradition or marking the celebration a different way this year. You may consider going on a trip, or spending the day with a close relative or a friend rather than staying home. Honouring your loved one through rituals such as lighting a candle in their memory or having a special decoration on the tree can be meaningful.

Holiday cards. You may not feel like sending out cards this year even if you enjoyed this activity in the past. Even receiving holiday cards may feel different than usual. You may want to consider sending a short note to friends who may not be aware of the death.

Holiday shopping.  Simplify gift giving this year if possible. Shopping can be exhausting. Stores filled with happy, bustling people and holiday music may trigger strong feelings of grief. Online shopping or gift cards are options to consider.

Reminisce. Memories of holidays past are likely to surface. Sharing these memories can be meaningful even when feelings of sadness and tears arise. You may want to purposefully do an activity that remembers your loved one such as listening to a certain piece of music piece or watching their favourite holiday movie. Others will take the lead from you and feel more comfortable sharing their memories.

Take time out. Practice serious self-care throughout this holiday season. Slow down and be gentle with yourself. This may be the time to get a massage or take a walk in the woods. Even if you feel the need to keep busy for distraction, make sure to schedule extra rest and nourish your body with healthy food choices. Exercise reduces the stress response in the body. Nutritious foods help manage mood swings. Try not to use alcohol to numb the pain of grief.

Ask for help. As difficult as it may be to ask, keep in mind that friends and family may be feeling helpless as to what they can do for you.  Consider reaching out for support with tasks like decorating, baking or shopping. Give people in your life opportunities to show they care. Ask a true friend if you can reach out to them if feelings get too painful during the season. You may also want to keep the phone numbers of helplines available in your community.

Give yourself permission to have nice moments. Laughing and experiencing joy and fun is not being disloyal to the person who died. Despite the roller coaster of sad moments, there can be many times of joy as you truly enjoy other close family members, children and special friends.  Make a conscious, daily effort to enjoy whatever you can manage.

Remember that grief is a necessary process, and an expression of love.  Be patient as you grieve. Allow yourself to be surrounded by loving, caring people.


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