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Grief During The Holidays: How To Stay Grateful

Thanksgiving: A time when friends and families gather to enjoy each other’s company, eat good food and share what they’re thankful for. But, what happens if you’ve recently experienced a loss of a loved one? How can you find things to be thankful for when you are grieving?

Whether it’s the loss of a beloved pet, the death of a family member or close friend or a devastating miscarriage, you may not feel like celebrating with anyone. However, the holidays won’t go away, so use this advice to help you get through. 

Dr. Yazhini Srivathsal, a psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, provided several ideas to help you get through the season. Chief among her tips is remembering that grief is a normal part of healing.

“Don’t try to avoid or mask grief, but allow yourself to experience it,” Dr. Srivathsal said. “The more you resist it, the harder it gets. So, acknowledge it and be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Please remember to be kind to yourself.”

Planning for the holidays

When Thanksgiving approaches and you’re grieving, you may feel your stress levels climbing. Developing a plan can help you navigate the difficult time. In fact, Dr. Srivathsal recommends:

  • Planning what you want to do, which events you want to attend and sticking to the plan.
  • Setting realistic expectations for yourself.
  • Keeping and not canceling holiday plans. You could even try making new traditions that you think will help you feel better.
  • Reducing stress by avoiding upsetting situations which could cause more pain. 
  • Being around people who love and support you. It’s totally fine to avoid people who add to your stress, and you don’t have to go out of your way to please people.

She also suggested it is important to know not everyone grieves the way you do. Remember: life goes on, and others may feel happy. 

Still, it’s important to have a backup plan in case you find yourself needing to leave the big gatherings. A backup plan would be anything that will make you feel at ease—watching a favorite movie, for example. Having this option will help you feel comfortable about venturing into the gathering in the first place because, if it doesn't go well, you already have a backup plan.

Being thankful through loss

Some people have the tradition of sharing what they are thankful for during Thanksgiving dinner. For someone grieving, this could be a very uncomfortable situation, but Dr. Srivathsal suggested finding things you are grateful for.

“Understand that being grateful can be a wonderful part of healing,” Dr. Srivathsal said. “Yes, there is a loss, but look at all the amazing things that you have gained by having this person in your life.”

Because we may focus so much on loss, we often forget about all the good things the relationship brought into our lives. Remember to talk about the joys the person brought to you and to others and how he or she changed your lives, suggested Dr. Srivathsal.

You can also find a way to honor the memories, especially the ones that help you feel better. For example, everyone at the dinner table can say one nice memory about the person lost.

“Remember that it is completely okay for you to feel sad, but feeling sorry for yourself might not serve you,” Dr. Srivathsal said. “It is okay to laugh and allow yourself to feel all the emotions. Don't feel guilty if you feel happy.”

You should look for the little things to be happy and grateful about—even if it means making an extra effort to find them. And, when others talk about being grateful or the things they are thankful for, try to listen with intent and acknowledge it, she suggested.

How to help others grieving during Thanksgiving

If you’re not the one grieving a loss, there are things you can do to support them. Offering to help them is a great start, and more specific offers are better, according to Dr. Srivathsal.

Other things you can consider include:

  • Listening to them. Sometimes just being there with them is the most help.
  • Offering hope and being genuine.
  • Being supportive of the way they choose to deal with the holidays, understanding that it could mean they want to spend time alone to reflect.
  • Inviting them over to do some volunteer work or donating to a charity in their name if you can.
  • Reaching out and continuing to offer support.

Showing you care about them and their loved ones is important—even if you don’t know what to say, according to Dr. Srivathsal.

“If you don’t know what to say, you don’t have to say anything,” Dr. Srivathsal said. “It is perfectly fine to say, ‘I don’t know what to say’ or just ‘I am sorry.’”

Things to remember

Grief is normal with any loss, and each person deals with it in their own specific way. When grieving, there are several things to remember, no matter what the time of year:

  • Take care of yourself and set aside time for self-care. Try to avoid negative coping skills like over-drinking alcohol.
  • Perform acts of kindness which can help you heal.
  • Accept help when someone offers it.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Finally, Dr. Srivathsal recommends going to a grief group or therapy to help you through difficult times. It is helpful to talk to others when you are grieving.

If you’re looking for a little extra help this season, take a look at our support groups to find one close to you.


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