Now that Thanksgiving has passed, many may think that a survivor has recovered from the sadness of being without a loved one.
But that’s not the case. Survivors often remain suspended in loneliness through the holidays as family and friends return to their daily lives.
What we cannot assume is that a kupuna who has lost a loved one no longer needs our support for the rest of the holiday season.
“There’s a lot of expectations around the holidays that everything would be festive and fun and happy, and that we’ll all come together, and while that’s true, there’s also a lot of loss,” said psychologist Dr. Allana Coffee.
There are ways we can help someone get through the holidays. The first is to acknowledge someone’s absence.
“Sometimes the family thinks, ‘Oh, we’ll protect each other’s feelings by not bringing that person up,’ but you know I take a lot of my cues from young children and they’ll say, ‘Oh, you remember when Aunty Jo used to like do this, or Uncle so-and-so used to like to do that,'” Coffee said.
Whether you talk about them or not, a survivor is thinking about them, so acknowledge the physical absence.
“Sometimes we’ll actually put pictures up or we’ll have like a shrine that’s there for our collective ancestors. So it’s built in that way that we would remember, and I just think remembering is a very helpful way of helping a person grieve, acknowledge, and still continue to love,” Coffee said.
Observe family traditions, even if the driving force behind that tradition was the lost loved one. Skipping traditions is an invitation for continued denial and complicates grief.
If possible, develop new traditions in honor of the loved one, “especially new traditions that are kind of like spin-offs from the old tradition,” Coffee advised. “Traditions that we can continue for them, that’s just our family legacy.”
Those traditions honor cherished memories.
Remember their tears are already there. Releasing them can help engage in the present and move recovery forward.
“Instead of looking at it as, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t be sad,’ we could also re-frame that as, ‘This is my lingering love with that person,'” Coffee said.