HOW TO DEAL WITH GRIEF DURING THE HOLIDAYS
The sadness of grief around the holidays seem to begin surfacing right around Thanksgiving. Christmas decorations, family holiday traditions and festive Christmas music that are meant to bring joy, serve as painful reminders of loss. For most people experiencing loss, the holiday season, seemingly can be the most painful time of all.
For our family, we have had so many changes recently, from selling our home, to moving hundreds of miles away, new jobs, clearing our property for building our pole barn and home and a sudden loss. These are major life changes!
I actually thought that by us building our pole barn and home, that it would be a great distraction from the holidays. I thought that by running a 5k with our family on Thanksgiving Day, would also be a great distraction. I thought that by not being in our home during Christmas time and not pulling out all the family memories of ornaments, made by the kids when they were little or stockings with their names on them, would all be great distractions of not having our loved one here. I was wrong. Retreating into our own little family shell, is probably just a subconscious coping mechanism to help numb the grief; but then the grief comes in waves, where it will hit you out of no where, right in the middle of a store, while Christmas shopping. You then take yourself to the restroom, cry for a minute and dry your tears. That is what is so hard about grief-that life just has a way of moving, always constantly moving and never stopping to allow yourself to catch your breath or grab some sense of normalcy. You actually have a new normal.
Our whole family broke down last night and had one big pity party, crying, hugs and all. My oldest daughter told me that she sometimes cried on her way home from work. She said she cried because she thought that her sister would be riding to and from work with her and that may be they would even be working together. You see, on the eve of a milestone birthday for myself, one that I was really looking forward to, we all cried for a daughter and a sister that was not present, yet greatly missed.
Isn’t it so tempting to pretend that the holidays aren’t here, while entrenched by your grief? I mean, I know we can’t because the holidays are all around us. Every store we walk in, every drive we take, down on every street, lined with Christmas lights and decor. At times, I wish I could be a fictional character, such as the Grinch. At least in the Grinch, the story has a happy ending.
I have always loved Christmas. It was my favorite time of year. Heck, I’d be decking the halls on October first and listening to Christmas music. I always looked forward to the Christmas traditions that my husband and I created over the years for our family. From all of us decorating our family Christmas tree to the youngest daughter placing the angel on our tree to our homemade hot cocoa, to riding around looking at Christmas lights to the Alabama Theater for a Christmas movie or picking out gifts for a child in need to Briarwood’s Live Nativity to reading The Christmas Story on Christmas Eve or baking and decorating Christmas cookies for Santa or our girls dancing in the Nutcracker Ballet to driving around looking at Christmas lights or making homemade ornaments. All of our traditions are my favorite. (There are many more!)
STRATEGIES FOR COPING DURING THE HOLIDAYS
GRIEF IS PART OF HEALING
Understand that grief is part of healing. Time does not heal the pain associated with a loss; it is actually what you do during that time that matters-to understand that grief is apart of the process of healing. Try to give yourself time to experience the pain, rather than constantly trying to escape it, by allowing yourself time to experience grief. This can actualy help you feel better in the long term.
Eventually the holidays will get easier, but only if you allow yourself to experience the grief of going through them without your loved ones. The “first” holidays without your loved ones will be the hardest.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
There are so many things that we can’t control about the holidays like I described above. Like walking into every single store with Christmas decor and Christmas music or even hearing of other people talking about holiday plans. We definitely can not prevent those things from happening but think about you can do to lessen your heartache. It is ok to not decorate for the holidays. Instead of shopping in stores, try shopping online instead. What about sponsoring a family in need this Christmas? Giving to others instead of ourselves. We have always let our children pick out items for a child around their age, that was in need, at Christmas time. I think it is good for children to understand that not everyone is like them. Teaching them to give to others is important. Also, remembering that it is ok for others to celebrate the holidays and be happy.
SETTING HEALTHY BOUNDRIES
Remembering that you don’t have to force yourself to go to every holiday event or do every holiday tradition. If attending a family gathering is going to bring on to many painful memories this year, just be willing to say no. You and your family’s well being is more important that pleasing other people.
FOCUSING ON PLANNING AHEAD
Think about this: a lot of times, the anticipation over how hard something is going to be is actually worse that the event or events itself. For example, Thanksgiving dinner will only last a couple hours, but you could easily spend weeks dreading it. By creating a simple plan of how you and your family can get through the holidays will avoid extending the anguish.
One other thing to plan is an escape plan. Have a secret word that only you and your immediate family knows. When someone says your secret word, it means they are ready to leave the holiday gathering. Just knowing that you or a member of your immediately family can leave at any time can help you enjoy the holiday gathering much more than if you felt stuck.
ALLOWING YOURSELF TO FEEL ALL THE FEELS
The holidays can bring on many emotions on a wide range! You can feel joy, sadness, guilt and they can all be within a few moments of each other. By allowing yourself to feel all of those emotions without judging yourself, will help to cope during this holiday season.
FINDING WAYS TO HONOR YOUR MEMORIES
Be creative by finding a special way to remember the person you have lost. That could be lighting the person’s favorite scented candle on Christmas Day or making a Christmas ornament each year. This is something that can be tangible and serve as a beautiful reminder that the love for this person never dies.
CREATING NEW TRADITIONS
Get creative! Start new family traditions this year. Do something out of the ordinary! For us, our first new tradition was running a 5k on Thanksgiving Day! We actually had a blast and are already planning to do another one this year!
GIVE TO OTHERS
In the middle of your grief, during the holidays, do something kind for another person. Serve meals for Christmas Day to the homeless, donate or give to a family in need this holiday season or volunteer at a local retirement community.
ASKING FOR HELP
Don’t be afraid to talk with a trusted family member or friend when your struggling with the holidays. Reminding loved ones that your having a tough time may be enough, but you may need to reach out for more support via local support groups or even contacting a professional counselor to help you deal with your grief in a healthy manner.
If your finding yourself here because you are dealing with grief this holiday season, know that I understand the pain you are going through. I know it does not make it any better but knowing that someone understands what you are going through is helful during your grief. If I can pray for you or help you in any way, please feel free to reach out!