Grief During the Holidays – Practical Survival Tips

You are already dealing with grief and loss and here come the holidays. All that cheer and joy in your face every day, and the increased social interaction of office parties, family gatherings and long-standing traditions. How can you function with your grief during the holidays?

My family suffered the devastating and unexpected loss of a loved one this year. I can’t even bear to write about it directly. Someday I will, but not now. I’m a writer, and I want to use that skill to help others who find themselves walking this particular detour through hell, but I can’t yet.

For now, I can use my years of experience and training as a Hospice volunteer along with my current situation to offer some general support to anyone trying to cope with a loss during the holidays.

Grief Has No Comparison

Admittedly, these days I have zero patience for stupidity or whiny drama over trivial matters and I get frustrated easily when things like my printer don’t work. What I also find is that I have an increased awareness of other’s pain and stress from loss.

I see you and I know your pain is real.

Real and tangible grief comes from many kinds of losses. Loss of health, a broken marriage, death of a companion animal, loss of trust after betrayal, loss of security or safety after a traumatic event…. It’s all real grief. It knocks you off your feet and changes everything.

Your loss and grief is yours. I will not tell you that you shouldn’t be hurting as much as I am or crying as often as I do. My loss is not worse than yours or better than another person’s. There is no comparison for despair or heartbreak.

So please do not say those things to yourself, either! You can’t scold yourself out of grief by telling yourself you are better off than others and have no right to be so upset. Your heartbreak is real.

Emotions and holidays go hand-in-hand under “normal” circumstances with all the family dynamics, and our traditions for gifts and food and decorating. There is the added emotional tug of songs and movies and the general theme of miracles and joy and happy endings.

It is hard to reconcile all those holiday expectations with the ups and downs of our grief.

What To Do For The Holidays?

Whatever you do is fine. Whatever you don’t do is fine. That is not meant in a feel-good pop psycho-babble way. It means you need to be honest with yourself and set limits for your holiday gifts, food, decorating and socializing.

If anyone doesn’t like it or tries to make you feel like you should “get over it” they can go jump in the lake. (Did I mention that I have no tolerance for stupidity these days?)

I am mentally and physically exhausted. If you are grieving, you know exactly what I mean. It takes a lot of energy to hold together the broken pieces, try to make sense out of events that will never make sense, and keep putting one foot in front of another.

Be careful of auto-pilot. Auto-pilot is a saving grace when you are numb with grief or having a day when the pain is overwhelming. Heck, that’s what got me back to my day job and a lot of my daily activities caring for my home and pets.

But with the holidays, I have to catch myself and turn off the auto-pilot. My normal holiday traditions are just too much this year, and that’s okay.

Keep It Simple

Thanksgiving was the first hurdle. I thought it would be good for me to keep busy, and good for my husband and me to be around family. It didn’t take long to realize I do not have it in me to do the full traditional family dinner from scratch with all the bells and whistles.

So I compromised. It was a small gathering. I bought frozen pies. I set the table with dishes that could go in the dishwasher instead of the china that required hand-washing. I had fewer side dishes, and those were easy. I used disposable baking pans.

And you know what? It was still too much. I was completely worn out for the next two days.

My husband and I enjoyed our family, and that was the best part. In retrospect, I put way too much on myself.

I could have asked family members to cook, and they would have been happy to help. It would have been perfectly fine to order the whole dinner from Cracker Barrel for pick-up and eat from disposable dishes. For that matter, we could have had frozen pizza and still would have had an uplifting time with loved ones.

In years past, I loved spending days cooking and preparing for a family feast. This year I did not fully appreciate how much my focus and energy levels have been compromised. Don’t make my mistake.

Our family celebrates Christmas. My husband and I agreed we will be very low-key this year. We don’t have little ones to consider so it is easier for us to skip most of the traditional stuff than it might be for you.

We are displaying a Nativity set and have a little Charlie Brown Christmas tree to set on a side table. The rest of the Christmas decorations will stay in storage this year.

We each have been doing little things to try and cheer up the other one. My husband bought me a couple snowman figures for the front porch that he remembered I wanted last year. I put those out and put a string of lights on the porch railing. My neighbor pulled in the driveway, made a cheerful remark about my decorating and I burst into tears.

As they say, it’s complicated.

That’s pretty much the limit of my energy or inclination for Christmas this year outside of attending our church services.

What You Can Say

Say “No, thank you”. Not this year. Thank you for asking.

You do not have to attend gatherings or events that will cause painful reminders, bittersweet reminders or are just too blasted festive for how you are feeling right now.

As noted above, if anyone tries to argue with you about something like a party or shopping, they can take a hike. You are not being mean or selfish!

I am not advocating hiding in a dark room for the season, but practicing self-protection is important. There is no need to add to your distress. If you know that certain places will be tough to take, don’t go there.

There are some relationships, like immediate family, we choose to maintain even when we are grieving. When it comes to extended family, friends and acquaintances, do not feel obligated to engage with people who are not supportive, who wear you out talking about themselves, or who have a unique talent for saying inappropriate things. It helps to screen your calls.

It is very helpful to have someone to talk to that is outside of your normal circle of family and friends. Even a few visits with a bereavement specialist, pastor or counselor can give you a place to vent and cry without any strings attached and will provide a safe outlet for some of your feelings.

Check out your local Hospice, community health center or the employee assistance program through your job to find counseling services. Your regular health care provider may offer some suggestions.

Depression and Complicated Grief

Normal grief includes sadness, crying and a variety of other emotions. Your life has been changed and there will be effects from that. As awful as it is, it is part of the normal grief process.

There are numerous online resources to help you understand grief and loss and ways to take care of yourself during this difficult process.

Sometimes grief becomes so profound or prolonged that it requires professional intervention. If you or someone you know has become severely depressed, is abusing alcohol or drugs to numb the pain, or is unable to function at home or work, please get help.

Thoughts or talk of suicide is an emergency. Please seek immediate help, even if it means going to the nearest hospital emergency room.

What Now?

As for me, I will not be mailing cards, baking a zillion cookies or making cranberry breads for each of my neighbors this year. No big tree, and no big dinner. I might even talk to my husband about going away for Christmas.

I will be doing my best to be supportive of my friends and family that are grieving. I will try to let my close friends who have had suffered losses know that they can still talk to me. It’s okay if we both cry.

What about you? Are you dealing with grief? How are you coping with the holidays – or are you? Do you have a safe place to vent your feelings?

Please feel free to leave your questions or suggestions about grief during the holidays in the comments below.

Stress Free Holiday Shopping Tips You Can Use Now

planningCrush Debt With An Effective Financial Plan

Holiday spending is a notorious budget buster, but with Stress Free Holiday Shopping Tips You Can Use Now your fall and winter holidays can be affordable, satisfying and fun!

A Debt Free Holiday is a Stress Free Holiday

Holidays are stressful enough without the worry and regret of additional debt. Being in debt just plain sucks! Are you struggling with debt, and feel like you are getting deeper and deeper? Stop digging and start planning!

If you are dreaming about starting your own business but can’t afford to leave your day job, that’s another reason to stop the same spending pattern and start planning.

Cut the worry and guilt and avoid adding debt by starting your stress free holiday shopping now in the top three budget busting categories: travel, gifts and food.

It is all well and fine to tell yourself that this year you are going to be frugal, but let’s be real. Instead of giving out adorably boxed home-made cookies, are you likely to end  up in line at the mall in December with a big load of guilt and a smoking hot credit card in hand?

Plan your spending and shopping strategies now. Come the New Year, you can look back at a holiday season that did not leave you in more debt! You’ve got this!

Take Advantage of Tax Free Shopping

When football season is kicking off and every store is packed with back- to-school promotions. Keep an eye out for tax free shopping days in your region.

Each year, more and more states offer tax-free shopping days or weeks for consumer goods ranging from clothing to computers! It is perfectly legit to snag a few things off your holiday shopping list during the tax-free period.

The good news is, you do not have to have a third grader in tow to take advantage of the sales! Nor do you have to be a resident of the state. Take advantage of the sales and reduced taxes to score some planned for purchases for the coming holidays.

Start Now for Stress Free Shopping for Holiday Travel Deals

The United States Department of Transportation reports that the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s holiday periods are among the busiest long-distance travel periods of the year. With higher demand comes higher pricing.

If you haven’t already, now is the time to start shopping for holiday travel tickets for you or for family members. Especially if you are planning to fly, shopping now is a very good plan. Not only will you be able to get better prices, you are more likely to get the flight you want before it fills up.

Don’t forget to look for hotel deals if you will not be bunking at Grandma’s or if the family is driving over a period of days. Remember a heated indoor pool is a great way to wear out kids who have been stuck in the back seat all day, especially if you can book that room at a reduced rate!

We Love Lay-Away for Holiday Gift Shopping

Thank goodness for the reappearance of the “Lay Away” plan at so many large retailers!  This old-fashioned payment method is a great way to avoid going into debt for holiday spending.

The revival of the Lay Away payment plan lets you buy your gifts now and divide up the payments between now and the holiday. You get to do your shopping early enough to avoid the rush and avoid any debt!

Since the gifts stay at the store until they are paid for, you don’t have to worry about hiding toys and bicycles from curious kids!

Most Law Away plans require 10 to 20% down with the remaining amount paid over a six to eight week period.

How it works: Say you have $300 worth of presents to lay-away. Most stores have a small lay-away fee of around $5. If you then put down 20% that would be $60 for a total to start of $65. You will then pay $30 each week for eight weeks.

Shop and lay-away now. You will have all your gifts paid off and ready to wrap the first half of December. Free and clear, with no January credit card hangover! How cool is that?

Rock Your Holiday Food Shopping

How many big meals and traditional recipes do you prepare every year? Are you expecting house guests in coming months? Do you tend to run to the store for your cooking and baking supplies a few days before the big event?

The grocery stores tend to offer attractive holiday specials or loss-leaders during the week or two before major holidays. Those bargains are designed get you in the store with the expectation that you will buy all the things you need while you are there. Yup,  even if the rest of the items on your list are not on sale.

Spread It Out

You don’t have to make yourself crazy trying to find rock-bottom prices on every item.

Control your spending and give yourself a little breathing room. Instead of stressing, plan your major holiday meals now! Include a complete “master list” of ingredients for all your special meals, treats and party foods.

Want a little extra help with planning holiday cooking? I really like the free meal planner sheets from the Organized Home site.

Look over your master list for items that may be safely stored for longer periods. Long shelf-life items are canned goods, frozen foods and baking supplies. Remember non-food items that run out faster during holidays. Stock up on toilet paper, napkins and paper plates!

Start now to pick up a few things from your list every time you go grocery shopping. You can spread the cost over several weeks. Bonus: You won’t be dragging it in the house and putting it all away at the same time. Win-Win!

Remember to mark the items off your Master List. Look at what you have accomplished!

Planning now for your holiday travel, gift giving and special meals will keep you out of debt and give you more time to enjoy your holidays.

Do you have some budget areas that are a problem? Would you like more tips for Stress Free Holiday Shopping? Leave your questions and comments below!

Are You A Planner? How to Conduct a Thanksgiving Postmortem

What would you change to make your next Thanksgiving the best ever?
What Would You Change?
Get a Jump on Planning for 2016!

With the last turkey leftovers about gone, and the Black Friday shopping out of the way, now is a good time to perform a Thanksgiving postmortem. No, I’m not talking about ways to use a turkey carcass! This is all about another way to use your planner and organization skills to make your life easier in 2016.

How did your Thanksgiving work out this year?

Were you a relaxed and calm hostess as you sat down to a perfectly cooked meal at your lovely table? Did everything get done but you were so exhausted by dinner time that you weren’t interested in food? Or was the entire affair a complete train wreck?

What is a Postmortem?

Postmortem is a Latin word meaning “after death”. In a business context, a postmortem is a look back at a completed project or event to identify what worked and what didn’t work. It is an essential part of basic project management used by successful team leaders to improve their business.

If you are the one who plans and executes holiday events like Thanksgiving Dinner, then you are a project manager and will benefit by a look back at your holiday dinner plan while it is still fresh in your mind – even if there are parts you would rather forget!

Gather Your Data

Breaking a big project – like Thanksgiving Dinner – into steps is the most basic element of project management.

If you are already a planner gal, you probably organized your Thanksgiving plans into steps for shopping, cooking and cleaning and put those tasks into your planner or calendar. (Not yet using a daily planner? Oh, Honey … stick with me anyway. The planner community is a wonderful place to be!)

At the very least, I bet you had a to-do list or a grocery list on paper or in your head.

So grab your planner or a calendar, whatever notes or lists you used to get ready this year, some paper and pencils and sit down in a quiet place with your beverage of choice.

Do a brain dump. If you didn’t make a task list before Thanksgiving, make one now. Jot down everything you did to get ready, including cooking and cleaning.

Write down what worked and what didn’t work for you. You will sort it out as you move into the analysis part, but for now try to quickly get everything down that readily comes to mind. Don’t spend too much time on this part. You will probably add more later.

What made you smile? A new sweet potato recipe that everyone raved about? Your kid’s pine cone turkey as a centerpiece? Hubby vacuuming all the floors the day before?

Anything not so great? Were you too worn out to enjoy your guests? Did the mountain of dirty dishes make you want to cry? Was the turkey overcooked or under cooked? What would you do differently?

Get Real With Yourself

Remembering the highs and lows for your brain dump probably raised a variety of emotions. Pride, embarrassment, amusement, annoyance to name a few.

Holiday family gatherings can bring on all kinds of emotional reactions that can lead to overwhelm if we let it.

We tend to want to make a good impression, and sometimes set impossible standards for ourselves to do it. Worse, we expect our immediate family members to help us achieve those standards and we get upset when they resist!

I married into an Italian family of eight children. To be specific, I married the baby of that family and he has five older sisters! Not only did I truly want to make a good impression on this huge family, the older me can admit I also have a teensy competitive streak.

So, take the desire to make a good impression, add a competitive streak and season with a liberal splash of perfectionism and you have the perfect recipe for an exhausted and overwhelmed woman. Does any of this sound like someone you know?

Was your goal to serve a delicious meal to comfortable and happy guests? Did you wear yourself out trying to dazzle and amaze everyone with your Pinterest-worthy home décor, tablescape and gourmet meal?

Be honest with yourself and your motives as you review the pre-holiday and T-day chores from this year’s celebration.

Look At Each Step

You are going to review every single thing you did to prepare before, during and after Thanksgiving dinner.

Look at your planner or calendar to see when you did the task. Would it have been better to do it two days earlier? A week earlier? How early could the task have been done? If you had thought of it sooner, could you have delegated the task?

Ask yourself: Was this task really necessary? Was this task joyful? Did I do it the hard way? Could someone else have done it? Was it worth the time and trouble?

Start from the very beginning. There is no judgment here but yours. This review is to figure out what worked best for your current situation and what did not work so well for your current situation.

For example, let’s say you spent several hours polishing Grandma’s wedding silver and hand-washing heirloom china.

Was this task really necessary? No. You could have used disposable or dishwasher-safe dishes and utensils for dinner and dessert.

Was this task joyful? Yes, if you have fond memories of helping your mother and grandmother each year. No, if it is a painful reminder of a loved one who has passed or if you just hate polishing silver!

Did I do it the hard way? Did you get this chore done weeks in advance, a little at a time? Or did you frantically polish and wash dishes late into the night because you were running out of time?

Could someone else have done it? Or at least part of it, like hand washing the china and silver after dinner?

Was it worth the time and trouble? It was if you had plenty of time and love hand washing fine old dishes. No, if you are currently working full time outside the home and/or have health issues and/or are caregiving for others, and …… you see what I mean.

Considering these questions, take an honest look at everything you did this year, from cleaning and decorating to your menu selection to the desserts and clean-up.

Planning For Next Year

Keep in mind that you are not being “lazy” or a poor hosterss if you scale back some of your decorations or substitute prepared foods for traditional homemade versions during busy times of your life.

You are being a savvy CEO who wisely reallocates resources and revises workflows in response to changing conditions! You are an amazing woman!

Following your postmortem of this year’s Thanksgiving, you will now have a better idea of what you can change or rearrange to make your next holiday event less stressful.

Be sure to put reminder notes in your 2016 planner with your ideal holiday To-Do list and timeline!

What was your biggest challenge this Thanksgiving? What do you think you will change next time? Please share your questions and comments on holiday planning in the comments below!

It’s Not Too Late! Last Minute Organizing to Reduce Thanksgiving Stress

Planning tips for an organized and relaxed Thanksgiving.
Be a relaxed and happy hostess with these planning tips!

Sometimes life gets so busy that even the most organized woman lets a big event sneak up on her. Or maybe you volunteered to host Thanksgiving at the last minute. Either way, you can avoid inviting stress and overwhelm to your holiday feast with some last-minute organizing tips.

The Bird is the Word!

If your turkey is still frozen, and you have a few days left, the easiest safe thawing method is in your refrigerator. Put it on a paper towel lined tray or baking sheet to catch any leaking juices. I usually put my turkey in the fridge early enough to make sure it is thawed in time to unwrap and rinse it the day before Thanksgiving.

Food safety tip: Use a lower refrigerator shelf for thawing your turkey and be extra careful when you remove the thawed bird on the tray. If drips or spills occur, use disinfectant wipes to clean up the spill and discard any foods contaminated by the raw poultry juices.

If you are in a pinch, you can thaw a frozen turkey in cold water, changing the water every half an hour until the deed is done.

The Butterball web site is a great place for all things turkey, including a nifty little calculator for estimating how long it will take to thaw your bird with one of these methods.

Put It In Writing

Write out your menu, including condiments and dessert toppings. Do you have all your ingredients? Whipped cream? Cranberry sauce? Extra ice? If you have to make one more run to the store before the big day, make your list now. How about non-food items like paper napkins and a disposable roaster pan?

Looking at your menu, work out a timetable for roasting your turkey and any other yummy things that have to be cooked. If your guests will be bringing dishes, find out if any of them will need to be heated and for how long.

Remember to allow prep time in your timetable. It takes a while to peel 10 pounds of potatoes!!

Write out or type your timetable in large fonts. I like to slip mine into a page protector and tape it to a cabinet door so it is easy to see even if my hands are full, and doesn’t get moved or covered up by any kitchen helpers. If you typed it, save it on your computer for the next year!

Make Room

Clean out your refrigerator. Be ruthless! If you aren’t serving those leftovers for dinner on clean-out day, go ahead and get rid of them.

Run the dishwasher and empty it out the day before Thanksgiving.

Make extra room on your kitchen counters by removing any appliances or decorative items that you will not be using on T-day. I put mine in the garage temporarily.

Do you have a cooler you can use for beverages, or can you ask a guest to bring one with ice? It would be nice to have the extra room in the refrigerator, and really helpful to have your drink area outside of the kitchen.

Pots, Pans and Dishes

Looking at your menu again, figure out your serving dishes. If any might be dusty from storage, go ahead and wash them.

If you are using special occasion dishes for your table, you may need to wash those, too.

Stack your clean serving dishes in a designated spot on your now uncluttered kitchen counter. Label each dish with a sticky note or scrap paper with the food it is intended to hold. Put your serving spoons there, too. Drape a clean towel over the stack until show time.

Honestly, labeling the serving pieces is so incredibly helpful when you start dishing things up to take to the table and you have guests that want to help, and the noise level in your house is rising …..

Do you have your pots and pans ready for the big day? Consider setting those out with labels, too so you don’t end up switching saucepans or realizing you need a baking sheet that is still under the turkey. The goal is to make it easier on yourself on Thanksgiving day by making most of the decisions now, even what pan to use for heating gravy!

If you are not going to be using disposable plates, go ahead and set your holiday table a day or more in advance. Include your trivets and serving spoons and salt and pepper shakers. Cover it all with a clean bed sheet until your guests are due to arrive. Easy peezy!


True hospitality is cheerfully opening your home and making your guests feel comfortable.

Have you ever been to someone’s house that constantly apologized or made excuses for her house or food or decorations? Did it make you feel like you were there at a bad time?

A frazzled and tense hostess is not welcoming, so please don’t do that to yourself and your guests!

The week before Thanksgiving is not the time to paint, redecorate or scrub the walls behind the refrigerator. Tidy the main living areas, swish the bathrooms and put out clean hand towels, then relax about it. You guests will be fine!

Hall closet stuffed? Take guest coats and lay them on a bed.

Do you have a busy schedule the week of Thanksgiving? Don’t plan to make home-made pies or Grandma’s seven layer Jello mold. Just don’t! You’ll be up all night and totally exhausted, and that’s no fun for anyone.

I promise you that simpler side dishes and store-bought pies will be eaten and enjoyed. And believe it or not, turkey and gravy are just as satisfying eaten off regular dishes as your mother’s wedding china that has to be hand-washed.

Try to make your clean-up as easy as possible.

It’s is not too late to have a lovely and stress-free Thanksgiving with realistic goals and a little last-minute planning. I am wishing that you and yours have a safe and  happy Thanksgiving!

Please share how these Thanksgiving planning ideas worked for you, or any other useful tips! Are there other holiday planning topics you want to hear more about? Please leave your comments below.