How to Manage Grief and Loss During the Holidays!

John ThurmanBy John Thurman5 Minutes

“Grief is a lot like the ocean. It ebbs and flows. It has high tides and low tides. Sometimes its waters are as calm as glass; other times, its rough waves and riptides can overwhelm. Sometimes, about all we can do with grief is learn how to practice water safety.”

A Word About Grief and Bereavement

Like some of you, I have dealt with the loss of loved ones over the holidays. On December 2, 2016, my mama, Mary Anne Thurman, passed from this earth, and just a few weeks later, on January 11, 2017, my dad, Howdy Thurman, went to be with her. Since they both loved the Christmas season, the holidays are a time of special memories. I hope these tips and links will help you have a season of gratitude for those who have gone before you.

Dr. George Bonanno and his team have studied the impact of grief across multiple international people groups and have discovered some helpful truths. And they may come as a surprise. Because Dr. Bonanno’s findings contradict what the grief industry has taught for years.

While Dr. Kubler-Ross provided some groundbreaking research into the stages dying people go through, she never studied the impact of grief on family systems. Her process was adapted and has become ingrained in our cultural model. The problem is the Kuber-Ross stages are not verified by research. The major breakdown seems to be if you don’t go through the process, you fail to grieve.

Rather than stages, Bonanno’s research reveals three broad styles of grief.

I hope this information will help as you and I move through this holiday season.

Having a general idea of what pattern of grief, you are in can help you be more effective in building the strategies of resilience, rest, and recovery into your own bereavement process.

Prolonged, Chronic Grief Pattern (10-15%)

The pain is extreme and enduring

Can last years

Grief is a long, agonizing experience

Resilient Recovery Pattern (most common) (50-60%)

They feel the pain of the loss

They face the reality of the loss and deal with the sadness and pain

Their pain is acute from a few days to a few months

They accept the loss, readjust to the reality without their loved one

This group tends to move through the loss fairly rapidly and looks to a new beginning.

Gradual Recovery Pattern (15-20%)

Experience intense suffering but for a shorter time, lasting from months to a year

Gradually pull themselves back together and begin to embrace their new normal

While they seem healthy (and are, for the most part), they can still experience the pain of the loss years later

10 Ways to Cope with Holiday Grief

*Note: Because grief is intensely personal and unique, you may or may not experience any of these. If you feel that your grief is manifesting in a different way or that you need to talk to someone, then don’t delay.

1. Be prepared for some sad moments or memories. You don’t need to be looking for them, but when and if they show up, give them the time you need to process them.

2. If you are worried about having too much time to overthink your losses, fill some of your empty holiday holes with good things.

3. Honor and celebrate old traditions and memories.

4 Be intentional about creating new traditions and memories.

5. Identify and expand your best coping skills.

6. Avoid isolation by volunteering at your church or in your community. Serving others is a significant way to avoid life-sucking self-loathing isolation can bring.

7. Engage with others, your Family, friends, neighbors, and other community members.

8. Have “reasonable expectations” of yourself. How do you think you are doing? How are you feeling? Based on what you know about grief, are you in an ok place? If you are in doubt, ask a friend.

9. Be sure to set boundaries on your time, expectations, and activities. Be busy but not distracted.

10. If you need help, get it. Reach out to friends, family, ministry leaders, therapists, online resources, and Crisis Lines if required.