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The holidays are a time to celebrate, spend time with family, and rejoice, but unfortunately many people dread the holiday season because they have lost a family member or close friend. Whether you’ve just recently lost a loved one or are going through your tenth Christmas as a widow, you may have a hard time coping during the holiday season. Although there is no “correct” way to cope, there is, according to the Hospice Foundation of America, a guiding principle that you can follow—do what is comfortable.

One tip for coping is to re-examine your commitments. There is no law that says you have to bake or send out greeting cards this year. And if you do want to try to get these things accomplished, consider asking for help. You may even want to ask someone else to take over this responsibility. Don’t be afraid to change traditions and do things differently—this can be very helpful.

So many times, people feel obligated to go to all of the family gatherings, buy everyone a present, make several holiday dishes, and keep all of the traditions from years before. Remember—it’s okay to tell your family that you aren’t ready to attend large gatherings. You may want to make all of your commitments to holiday parties tentative, dependent upon how you feel that day.

You might consider shopping on the Internet and through catalogs to avoid seeing holiday decorations or hearing songs which may trigger sad feelings. If you do decide to brave the crowds, make a list ahead of time to stay focused on the task at hand.

Adding new traditions to recognize your loved one can also bring peace and joy. You can light a candle in their memory, look at photographs from years before, and share special memories with your friends and family. Allow yourself to express your feelings and emotions. Holidays often magnify feelings of loss, so it is important to share those feelings with a friend and ask for support.

According to OSF Hospice’s Pastoral Care Manager, Mary Jo Zacher, reaching out for help is very important. She told me about a time when she had lost her brother and thought she could never survive the holidays. A good friend told her, “I don’t know how you’re going to make it either, but I do know that you will.” And she did, because she was not alone.

It’s important to remember that you will enjoy the holidays again, and that it’s okay to have fun with your family and friends. Don’t feel guilty about laughing and smiling—your loved one would want you to have a good time. Just remember, do the best you can and do what is comfortable for you.

Several local groups are available to help you cope with grief. Meetings take place at the United Presbyterian Church, 2400 W. Northmoor Road, on Tuesdays from 3 to 4:30 p.m., and Thursdays from 6 to 7:30 p.m. For more information on OSF Hospice, please visit www.osfhomecare.org or call 800-673-5288. IBI

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