Dear Ilana and Jess: I am one of many who finds the holidays incredibly hard. We lost my mother-in-law last Thanksgiving, and my father six months ago. I am trying to be cheerful for the sake of my kids, but I am dreading Christmas and the loss I know I’ll feel. Is there anything I can do to make the holidays more bearable? — Christine
Dear Christine: First and foremost, we want to say how deeply sorry we are for your losses. Grief is something we understand professionally and personally, and it always aches us to hear that someone is enduring it.
We want to emphasize that grief manifests and affects each of us differently. With respectful acknowledgment of this, we propose the below not with the expectation or intent of erasing your pain, but with the hope of helping you find greater peace of mind.
Given the complexity and magnitude of grief, we always suggest that families going through bereavement speak with a counselor. You might consider individual therapy, family therapy, or even a grief support group. Processing your emotions with someone who can extend empathy and provide psychological support can have a tremendous impact.
One of the things that can make the holidays so difficult is the emphasis on tradition. It’s hard to face an empty chair at the dinner table that was always reserved for a loved one, or to reassign a role in the celebrations that belonged to someone we’ve lost.
Before Christmas arrives, it can be helpful to think about which parts of the day you expect to be the most difficult, and to consider how you can cope as these moments arise. For example, if you believe you’ll feel sad while watching an annual Christmas movie, you might consider sitting close to the edge of the room, in case you’d like to step out for a private moment. If you feel most comforted in the company of others, consider making sure you’re seated next to your spouse. Keep in mind that we can’t always anticipate the ways in which grief will present. Be kind to yourself and remember that it is okay if you feel differently than the way you expected: whether you feel better or worse.
When we try to replicate a tradition without the person who started it, lead it, or shaped it, we may feel their absence even more profoundly. Consider starting a new tradition that honors the memory of your loved ones. For example, if your father always cut the turkey, perhaps you and any siblings you might have want to alternate cutting the turkey each year, after taking a moment to share one of your favorite memories of him. If your mother-in-law always baked cookies, consider spending time teaching your own children how to make them the way she did.
Finally, remember that things will feel different because they are different. Unburden yourself from the pressure to keep things as they were. Most importantly, honor and celebrate the lives of those you love in a manner that feels meaningful and right to you and your family.
Say This: “I’d like to honor Grandma and Grandpa by creating a new tradition, inspired by the ones they started.”
Not That: “I’m fine, don’t worry about me.”
Say This, Not That is based on the work of Cognition Builders: a global, educational company headed by Ilana Kukoff (Founder & CEO) and Jessica Yuppa Huddy (Chief Learning Officer). Everywhere from New York City to California to Shanghai to Zurich, the Cognition Builders team is called upon by A-list entertainers, politicians, CEOs, and CFOs to resolve the conflicts that upend everyday life. When their work is done, the families they serve are stronger than ever. With their new book, Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter Kukoff and Yuppa Huddy have selected the most common conversational mistakes parents make, and fixed them. For more information, please visit: https://cognitionbuilders.com. To purchase Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter visit: http://publishing.andrewsmcmeel.com/books/detail?sku=9781449488055.
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