The Holiday Season: “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year,” For Some, May Not Be For Others
Ralph (Gene) E. Cash, Ph.D., ABPP
December 22, 2022
The holiday season is here, and for most people, like the song says, it’s “the most wonderful time of the year.” However, for some, holidays can be especially difficult, particularly for those who have suffered a recent loss or who cannot seem to shake the grief related to losses that occurred a while ago. The fact that those who are grieving are around so many people who seem to be happy and having a good time can exacerbate negative feelings in those who have suffered or are anticipating a loss.
It is important to remember that losses do not have to involve the death of a person in order to be very painful. Loss of a job, a home, a friendship, skills, or the capacity for intimacy can also be devastating. It is not possible to know all the battles others are fighting on a daily basis, and there’s no time like holidays for this to resonate so clearly.
Here are some important points to keep in mind this time of the year (not necessarily in the order of importance in any given situation):
• Grief and grieving are very personal and individualistic. Try hard not to be judgmental about how someone is expressing his/her grief.
• The first priority for anyone expressing profound grief is to keep them safe! Do not hesitate to ask about self-harm and suicidality. You won't put ideas in their heads, and you may save a life. If suicidality seems at all to be an issue, provide the national suicide prevention hotline (988) and/or refer them to a mental health professional.
• Express concern for the person who is grieving and ask if they are willing to talk about their grief, but don't say, "I know just how you feel!" It is very unlikely that you do, and it often seems to diminish the importance of their feelings and their grief.
• Holiday traditions are important. Encourage the grieving person to be involved in keeping those traditions without attempting to force them or to demand that they participate. Doing normal things can help a person feel more normal, even if it doesn't seem that way at first.
• If someone is terminal and has limited time, talk to them, and let them talk, if they will. Visit them. Don't avoid them or their condition, even if it feels awkward or scary to engage with them. If you are friends, that friendship should continue.
• Provide the grieving person with opportunities to help others, if at all possible. Helping others often makes one's life seem more meaningful, engenders a feeling of usefulness, and can mitigate the hurt of one's own losses.
• Remember that kindness heals. Small acts of kindness can have large benefits for both the one who is kind and the recipient of the kind act(s). Model and encourage kindness and pay it forward.
• Seek professional help for extended and/or complicated grief, especially if the grief engenders thoughts of suicide.
The holidays can be fun and cause for celebration for some, but they can also be reminders of what has been lost and can stir feelings of regret and grief for others. If you remember the old adage to be kind to others, that can go a long way in helping friends and loved ones who are struggling at this time of the year to persevere and to make it through.
Ralph (Gene) E. Cash, Ph.D., ABPP Nova Southeastern University, College of Psychology, Professor / Core Faculty, School Psychology / Director, School Psychology doctoral (Psy.D.) program / Full-Time Faculty, Department of Clinical and School Psychology