By Christi Lero, MSW, LCSW
Maybe you’ve heard of the stages of grief…
Raise your hand if you have heard of the five stages of grief.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was definitely a pioneer in the field of grief and bereavement. However, since her research was published there have been more questions, more research, and more theories. We now know that grief is not linear. In other words, grief does not follow steps or rules. In fact, the goal of coping with loss is not to “let it go” or “get over it.” Like all relationships, your feelings about the loss change over time. The grief itself changes, and it changes us – especially around this time of the year.
The holiday season is different when you are grieving
The holiday season can be especially hard for someone who is grieving. Let’s talk about one of the ways the bereaved can cope with the challenges of grief in the middle of the mistletoe hanging and menorah lighting.
Dennis Klass, Phyllis Silverman, and Steven Nickman are grief researchers to add to your list after Kubler-Ross. They wrote that people not only want to have a continued relationship with the deceased, but that it is normal and can be healthy to do so.
Continuing bonds after a loved one’s death
This concept called continuing bonds brings comfort and support throughout the life of the grief. Some of the ways people engage in continuing bonds includes:
- Dreaming about the deceased
- Talking to, praying to, or meditating on the deceased
- Thinking of the deceased as a “guardian angel” or “watching over” us
- Visiting places where memories were made with the deceased, or the place of rest of the deceased
- Continuing traditions or creating new traditions involving the deceased
Tips for continuing the bonds of your relationship during the holidays
What do these things look like in action? Here are five ideas to create continued bonds over the holidays:
- Tweak traditions: if there is something that the deceased did each year around this time, like baking a certain sweet, maybe try to make it yourself using their recipe. Share the recipe with others to keep that tradition going.
- Create traditions: lighting candles in memory, setting out holiday pictures; new traditions and rituals keep our relationships alive.
- Decorate the gravesite or urn with flowers, ornaments, pictures, or lights.
- Create a space for you or others to enjoy, to reminisce and think about the deceased. A wind chime in a tree, a picture and note about the deceased on a bench on a walking path can be great ways to share a loving legacy.
- Write… but not to Santa: sharing our thoughts and putting them in a letter is a meaningful way to stay connected. Include hopes and fears, pictures and memories.
Everyone doesn’t grieve the same way
It is important to be aware of the age appropriateness of coping. What will comfort a child may not comfort an adult. That being said, the relationship can change coping as well. A widow(er) will need different comforts than one who has lost a friend. And for some, continuing bonds with the deceased is not supportive or helpful for the grief process. If the relationship was rocky in life, it tends to be rocky in death. These ideas may not help someone who has does not want to continue their bond with the deceased.
Grief is its own experience. What your experience looks like depends on so many different individual factors. In fact, two people living in the same household may cope with the loss in very different ways. However, it’s important to know that looking for ways to continue a relationship with the ones you love even after they die is normal. In fact, maintaining the bonds of that relationship can bring comfort and peace.
Counseling for Grief
Everyone needs support at different times in their life. When you’ve suffered a major loss in your life, it’s normal to want to talk about and process that loss. However, some of the people in your life may not be in the same place you are or may not understand your grief. Perhaps it feels like everyone else has moved on.
Then, the holidays hit and things can seem especially hard. That empty chair at the table seems overwhelming to face. A therapist can offer an unbiased ear and can help you navigate through the holiday season. If you’re ready to get counseling, live in the Mid Missouri area and are looking for somebody who will understands grief, Aspire Counseling may be a fit. To be started, please follow these steps:
- Contact our intake coordinator by filling out this form online or by calling 573-356-8857
- Come in and talk to one of our grief counselors for a free consultation appointment to see if we’re a good fit
- Have a safe space to remember your loved one, process your many feelings and start finding your new normal.
About the Author
Christi Lero is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a therapist at Aspire Counseling. She is passionate about helping individuals in the midst of grief as well as adults impacted by chronic or terminal illness. She also specialize in geriatric mental health with a history of working at both a nursing home as well as a hospice. Christi can help you find hope in the midst of struggles and redefine the roles you play as you adjust to a “new normal.”