As the news continues to pour in about the latest horrific school shooting – dozens dead at an ELEMENTARY school in Connecticut this time – we are reminded that all is not well just because there are red and green lights strung about. The world can be a shocking and painful place.
I had been meaning to blog about grief during the holiday season, and today seems appropriate.
This is not a breezy or light-hearted post, as mine are wont to be. No pictures, no humor.
If you need it, read it. Otherwise, skip it or share it with someone who does need it.
This is about surviving terrible loss.
I am grateful that although I’ve experienced a lot of pain and losses over the past five years, this holiday season, things seem to be getting back on an even keel.
Thank God. Being down at this time of year is the pits. This is my fifth Christmas without my mother. Certain carols still bring on the tears, but the grief is no longer acute, just a deep vacancy within my heart.
Grief is a life-long process, as we incorporate painful losses into our lives – the death of beloved friends and family, the loss of our health or our home, broken relationships, job changes, and other major transitions. The holidays can be an especially difficult time, even many years after a loss.
Often we experience the “holiday blues” simply because holidays bring up memories and highlight changes in our lives. If you’re feeling down, you are not alone. Many people would probably welcome a few quiet moments during this busy season to listen to you and to share a few memories of their own. Reach out and let people know how you are feeling.
Here are a few tips that might help you get through holiday grieving.
Stay Connected with your Feelings
Give yourself permission to feel and express your emotions. Make sure to create time and space to honor your feelings. There is no ‘right way’ to do this – write in a journal, go for a walk, meditate and pray, exercise. Be present with your own grief and by all means, cry if you need to. Tears are an emotional release and help cleanse our bodies of toxins. If others are uncomfortable with your tears, that’s their issue. This is your grief and your holiday. And if a little happiness or even joy creeps in this year, embrace it. Don’t feel guilty. Mixed emotions are normal during bereavement, especially during this season.
Be Kind to Yourself
Get plenty of rest, eat nourishing foods and drink lots of water. Try to avoid excessive alcohol and sweets, which can contribute to depression and stunt your grieving process by numbing your feelings. Put your health and healing first. Simplify and try not to over-do social engagements, shopping, decorating and other holiday “musts.” Do what you can, but give yourself permission to miss a party or buy cookies instead of baking them. Skip the Christmas cards unless they help you process. Slow down. Take a bubble bath, a tea break, read a book, get a massage. Treat yourself as you would treat a dear friend who has been bereaved. Be alone when you need to, and reach out when you want company.
Don’t allow the holidays to simply happen to you. Give yourself as much control as you can; know where you will be, and when. Keep your schedule manageable and learn to politely decline invitations. Decide which activities and traditions are helpful and which are not. Choose to be with safe, supportive people and put off the “obligations.” Remember to give yourself time to be alone with your feelings. You might try taking your family and other people in smaller doses – look into staying in a hotel or plan an “escape break” to a park or a movie during your holiday activities.
Communicate your Feelings and Needs
Let people know how you are feeling. Tell them what you can handle, and what is too much for you. Be open about what you want to talk about and what you would rather not. Ask for help with chores, errands, and decorating. Guide your friends and family in the best way to help you. You are not a burden. People feel good about helping and just need to know what you need.
Say No to Expectations and Comparisons
Don’t try to live up to expectations of how you should feel or act – your own or other people’s. You may even feel expectations from your deceased loved one, “She would have wanted me to…” If you’re religious, you might think that “Godly people” should not be sad or depressed – but Jesus wept and grieved for people. Try not to compare yourself or your family with others. Everyone grieves in different ways – give yourself plenty of space and grace. Accept your limitations and don’t beat yourself up.
Create or Eliminate Traditions and Rituals
Talk to your family and decide which rituals and traditions are healing. Some may be too painful. Compromise with each other. Incorporate memories of your loved one into your holiday. Write poems or prayers, light a candle, create a memorial piece of artwork together. Hang a new ornament, volunteer at a nonprofit that your loved one supported. Remember that what you do this year doesn’t have to be repeated next year. You may choose a new ritual next year. Do what feels right for you now.
Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help
If you are feeling overwhelmed or immobilized by negative or destructive emotions, don’t try to be super human. There are many support groups and programs that can help. Most counties have hospice grief groups during the holidays.
Remember, You Will Survive
This time of year will likely be the most difficult season of your grief. But you will get through it. Our anticipation of the holidays is always worse than the holiday itself. You don’t have to enjoy the holidays; you don’t even have to pretend. Rest and be kind to yourself. You are not alone.