Kitchener-Waterloo

How to get through the holidays when grief has you feeling less than jolly

The song says the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, but if you're grieving the death of a loved one, you may not be feeling very jolly, says Carly Kowalik, program co-ordinator for the Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region.

Words like 'merry' and 'happy' may be last thing you're feeling, says Carly Kowalik

The holidays can be a tough time for people who are grieving the death of a loved one, says Carly Kowalik, the program co-ordinator for the Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region. (Canadian Memorial United Church)

For people who are grieving the death of a loved one, this really isn't the most wonderful time of the year.

But there are ways to cope, whether you're the person grieving or you're supporting someone else, says Carly Kowalik, the program co-ordinator for the Bereaved Families of Ontario — Midwestern Region.

"I think that it's right in the phrase: Merry Christmas. Happy holidays," Kowalik said. "Those words 'merry' and 'happy' when you're grieving are probably the last thing that you're feeling."

She says there's pressure from society to feel happy during the holidays and get together with family and friends.

People expect you to be "cheerful and merry and joyful but [you're] feeling the exact opposite of that," she said.

During the next month, Kowalik's office is hosting a number of workshops called Anything But Merry to help people who are grieving, and people who are supporting them, to learn how to cope with the holidays.

Manage expectations

She says for the person grieving, it's OK to lower your expectations of the holidays and the demands you place on yourself.

"You don't need to do what you've always done and those traditions and routines that you've done for the past however many years, throughout the holidays, you don't have to do them if it doesn't feel right anymore," she said.

She suggests talking to the people in your life before events to let them know how you're feeling and if it gets to a point where it's just too much, you can leave.

For people supporting someone who is grieving, she says it's important to let the person talk. Don't be afraid to talk about the person who has died and say their name. You could even acknowledge their passing with a framed photo is a special place or leaving a chair empty at the table.

"Acknowledge that someone should be there, but they're not here, but we still want to acknowledge that presence," she said.

Carly Kowalik is a program co-ordinator Bereaved Families of Ontario - Midwestern Region. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

Year-round groups help people cope

Some people focus on the holidays and traditions, then find January can be a hard time because all the hubbub from the holidays is over. 

Kowalik says Bereaved Families of Ontario offers a number of support groups throughout the year, like their Living With Loss group. These groups connect people with others going through the same thing and offers ways to cope in everyday life.

The Anything But Merry sessions are one-hour long each and free, although registration through the Bereaved Families of Ontario — Midwestern Region website is required. 

The dates for the sessions are:

  • Monday, Nov. 18 at 6 p.m. in Mount Forest.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. in Fergus.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. in Breslau.
  • Thursday, Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. in Elmira.
  • Monday, Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. in Waterloo.
  • Thursday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. in Guelph.
  • Thursday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. in Cambridge.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. in New Hamburg.
Bereaved Families of Ontario - Midwestern Region is hosting workshops over the next month called "Anything But Merry." They're for people who are grieving the death of a loved one, or people who are supporting someone else in their grief. Carly Kowalik offers some suggestions on how to make it through the holidays when you're feeling less than jolly. 6:07

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now