Grieving and the Holidays

December 11, 2014

Have you lost a loved one to asbestos cancer or mesothelioma? The season of good cheer can be especially excruciating for those who have recently suffered a death in the family or suffered some hard-hitting news.

Grief doesn’t take a holiday. And if you have children, even adult children, who are expecting you to carry on annual traditions in the absence of a beloved face at the dinner table, this time of year can be especially hard.

Here are a few suggestions for navigating the holidays when sorrow grips your household:

1. Do know this doesn’t have to be the BEST HOLIDAY EVER. Try not to feel pressured to keep up with the usual festive activities if you do not feel like it or can no longer afford it. You will experience moments of joy and even laughter. Don’t feel guilty about those, either. Know that it is okay to be sad and happy at this sentimental time of year.

2. Don’t feel guilty about change. This significant loss has caused a substantial shift in your life and in the lives of your children. Maybe you’ve had to move or there are certain gifts you won’t be able to give with an income slashed or massive medical bills to pay off. These can be important life lessons about coping and overcoming hardship for everyone in the family to learn and grow from.

3. Don’t stay quiet. Pretending the loss didn’t happen just because it is the holiday season doesn’t make it go away. Allow your family members to discuss what they’re feeling. Give everyone permission to express their grief. We tend to want to fill the air with idle chatter in order to avoid the pain of what we’re feeling, but that doesn’t alleviate the hurt. It just suppresses it. Know that quiet time to reflect is good for the soul and the psyche and can be very comforting.

4. Do talk about the good ol’ times! Family therapist Janis Clark Johnston, author of “It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development,” cautions that when you purposely avoid talking about the missing person or the way things used to be, you introduce the concept of “shame,” as if one should be ashamed for thinking of or talking about the person who is no longer present. Know that it is okay to talk about what you liked about your deceased loved one — and maybe even what you didn’t like so much! It’s okay to talk about your feelings and memories, no matter what.

5. Do make steps for the future. Engage the family in designing new rituals and traditions. What you always assumed was the best thing about the holidays for your family might be something they didn’t especially care for and might be relieved to let go of. Encourage loved ones to imagine new ways to commemorate the season while honoring the one you’ve lost. When everyone has a hand in designing new rituals, every family member will feel included in the changes.

Johnston especially likes the idea of participating at a food bank or a homeless shelter as a new “tradition” families can adapt to honor loved ones and embrace something novel. “Serving food at a homeless shelter helps [children and adults] feel necessary and shows them they can make a difference,” she says.

If you are searching for a way to give the loss of your loved one new meaning, join Baron & Budd’s fight to increase asbestos awareness. If you want to express your sorrow and inspire others, we encourage you to share your story. And if you or a loved one has recently received a mesothelioma diagnosis, call or email Baron & Budd to see what you can do about it.

Grieving is hard, especially during the holidays. But you can also celebrate what was – and what is still to come.