‘Life can go on’: tips for coping with grief over the holidays

Maintaining family traditions is important when grieving a family member. CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson

The holiday season is here, and the strong cultural emphasis on family and togetherness can be especially difficult for those who have recently lost loved ones.

Tara Brousseau Snider of the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba told 680 CJOB Thursday that it’s important to talk about the empty chair at your family dinner.

Tara Brousseau Snider
Tara Brousseau Snider. Global News / File

“The problem with major holidays is that it all comes back,” she said. “It can be as raw as when you first felt you missed your loved one.

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“My husband died on Christmas Eve, so for my family, that first ‘next Christmas’ was crucial for us. What I found really worked were the traditions.

“Especially for kids, if we ground ourselves in what we know as our traditions, all those things really matter.”

Brousseau Snider said a common mistake among people who have recently lost a family member is choosing not to acknowledge the person is missing, or that anything is out of the ordinary.

READ MORE: Holidays can be painful for people dealing with loneliness or grief — here’s how to cope

She said people living with grief should be encouraged, to recognize that things have irrevocably changed, and to acknowledge that the absent person is deeply missed.

“We show people that while we mourn and really miss that individual, life can go on,” she said. “It will never be the same, but we can keep going.

“I think what we do need to do is recognize life does go on and it can still be joyful. Sometimes it can be more joyful, because we understand sorrow, so we can learn from what we’re missing.”

Above all, she said, it’s important to talk about your feelings with someone who cares.

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READ MORE: Feeling anxious? Manitoba group’s solution: Throw it in the fire

The Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba has volunteers 365 days a year ready to help over the phone, even during the holidays.

“They all know loss,” Brousseau Snider said. “They all know conflict, all of those things. They’re here to help people.”

Manitobans called in to 680 CJOB with their own personal stories of grief and loss over the holidays.

“One trend that I’ve been noticing on Facebook – it could be a lot of boomers are sharing the loss of parents, which I’ve gone through also – is they’re suddenly having ornaments on their tree, of ‘oh, this is when I was a kid’ or ‘this is grandma’s'”, said one caller.

“I think something is happening with people where they’re recognizing the traditions to keep them going.”

WATCH: Ask an expert: Dealing with holiday grief

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Ask an expert: Dealing with holiday grief

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