The holidays are a common trigger for those bereaved by suicide. Survivors experience myriad emotions as the waves of grief wash over them again and again. How do you cope?
The holidays can be an especially challenging time for survivors of suicide loss. For many, this time of year evokes memories of loved ones who are no longer with us, and while it’s important to express emotions and take the time to grieve, we often feel lost as to how to cope.
Karen Letofsky, CASP board member and Executive Director of Distress Centres and Survivor Support Program, shares her four key tips for coping with suicide loss during the holidays.
1. Acknowledge life has changes and it’s OK for the holidays to change too.
Take the time to reflect on past rituals and celebrations, and ask yourself: is this still meaningful to me? Do I have the energy to do this? Do I want to do it? Will it be more hurtful than helpful? Some people feel like everything else in life has changed so much, they want to make sure the holidays stay the same. Whereas other people acknowledge the holidays are already onerous, and this is an opportunity to find some new rituals. Discover what works best for you, and accept it as your way of coping.
2. Manage your energy.
When you are grieving, your energy levels are significantly impacted due to all of the emotional work you are doing. Self-care becomes even more important, and you must pay attention to your energy levels at this time of year. Be prepared to expect less of yourself – it may not be possible to do all of the things you have done in the past. Be sure to ask for help or modify your plans in your energy level is not there. It’s imperative to be good to yourself, and be active in your self-care in a conscious way that we often struggle with during the holidays.
3. Have a discussion with family and friends around how you will remember the person who is not there.
Are there new traditions you can create, or special rituals to include the memory of your loved one in the celebration and in the activities you do? It’s so important to remember the person’s life, and know that the way they died does not define who they are, their value, or what they meant to you when they were alive. Have a discussion with the signficiant people in your life and ask them: how do you want to remember? Determine whether any options are off the table, and find a solution that everyone is comfortable with. Perhaps you would like to serve a particular food the person enjoyed, or acknowledge them by participating in a special activity.
4. Be aware of your social support network.
Focus on creating a meaningful social support network around you – people in your life who are sensitive to what your needs and moods might indicate. These are people who you can rely on as your allies in challenging times.
When we think of social support, we tend to limit our options and look to one person to satisfy all of our needs. But your social support network should be made up of closer to seven or eight people. It could be anyone – colleagues at work, friends, family, even the neighbour next door. You’ll need someone who makes you laugh, someone who can be quiet with you and support you, someone who can cry with you, even someone who can help with the shopping. No one person can fill all of those needs. It’s important to identify who you can turn to depending on what you need at that point in time. Recognize the gifts the various people in your world can give you at challenging times, and let them know what you need from them. Tell them, “I don’t need anything else from you except for you to make me laugh,” or “I just need you to be quiet with me.” This guidance will be a gift to them, and you’ll be more likely to get the support you need.
Remember, you are not alone. If you need additional support, please reach out to a distress line near you. For more information, see CASP Survivor Chair Jenn Ward’s video on Surviving a Suicide Loss here.