Grief and Loss
Surviving the Holidays When You're Grieving
Don’t plan to skip the holidays. It’s impossible to wish the day away. It will come, no matter what you do. Instead of trying to ignore the holidays and hiding your feelings,
accept that it’s normal to feel sad and blue during these days. Meet your feelings head on and work out some strategies to help prepare you, as much as possible, for the holidays and
Plan Ahead. When you are grieving, no doubt you do not like to be surprised. After all, your emotions are already like a roller coaster, up and down, and unpredictable. Plan ahead. Ask your family members and friends to tell you about the festivities they are planning so you know what to expect. Strategize about who you will go with and which parts of the planned festivities you feel you can participate in comfortably. Predictability reduces the element of surprise and increases coping skills. When you don’t feel comfortable, tell a trusted friend or family member about your feelings and ask them to support your decision not to participate or ask them to help you find an alternative way to make it more comfortable.
Make tentative plans. Because your emotions are so unpredictable during the time of grieving, it is hard to know ahead of time if you will be having a good day tomorrow, or next week. When you are invited to a party or other holiday gathering, tell your host, “I would like to come, put me down as a “maybe”. This way you are not obligated to go if you change your mind because you’re having a tough day.
Give yourself grace. Do only those activities which are special and meaningful to you. What do you feel comfortable doing? Which activities do find supporting? Do only those things. It’s your grieving period, it’s okay to put yourself first. Be kind to yourself. Get plenty of rest and eat healthy foods. Don’t take on any more than you can manage. If you need to be alone, give yourself permission to do so. If you want the love and support of others, ask for it. Do whatever it is that gives you the comfort and support you need.
Shop early or by catalog or online. When you’re grieving, you may see the world through skewed glasses. If you have lost a spouse, you may feel as if everyone around you is in a happy, healthy, and loving relationship. If you have lost a child, everywhere you look you will see only joyful active children with smiling, reassuring, and loving parents. You see malls overflowing bustling shoppers, Christmas music, blinking lights, and delightful smells of pumpkin spice and pine trees. These sights, sounds, and smells can heighten a grieving person’s depression. You may feel “obligated” to smile because “everyone else is”, stirring up feelings of guilt about being “phony” which brings on more depression because you don’t feel congruent.
Talk through it. When asked, “How are you?’, be truthful. The only way through grief is to grieve. You can’t go around it. Your friends likely don’t know how to best support someone who is grieving. Tell them how you feel. “Today is tough for me”; “I’m feeling vulnerable right now”; “I’d like to sit here and reflect a bit”; “I’d like someone to just sit with me for a while”. Sharing your feelings will help to bring on the healing. You need people who are willing to listen. Choose friends who you are comfortable with and ones who will not be uncomfortable with your tears. Friends and family may think talking about your grief will only remind you of your losses, so they may avoid talking about it. Let them know talking is what you need. Tell them how they can best support you, whether it be listening, remembering with you, or participating in an activity which brings you comfort. Talking with a counselor may also be needed in order to help with the healing process.
Ask for help and accept it. This is not the time to pretend you are strong. You need the help and support of family and friends. You are not a burden. Your loved ones will be happy to help someone they care for and your allowing them to help will give the gift of purpose and meaning. If you find people are not helping you, it is likely that they do not know how to help you. Make your needs known. If you need someone to help you with decorating, meals, shopping, or planning, let them know. Most will be delighted to know they are helping in a meaningful way.
Find a support group. Friends and family can be supportive when you’re grieving, but they may have their own grief from the same loss. Or they may have other challenges in their lives which won’t allow them to help you as much as they would like. Support groups for the bereaved are usually easy to find during the holiday season. Ask about them at local churches, community centers, hospice agencies and search the internet to find a group that is right for you. It’s very comforting to be a part of a group whose members are grieving losses similar to your own. The friends you meet there will likely be a source of friendship for years to come.
Stop comparing. During the holidays, you may be tempted to believe that everyone is thoroughly enjoying the holidays. Don’t allow yourself to make these comparisons because in reality holidays are very stressful for most people. Holidays are rarely the picture perfect scenes you see in holiday movies or even in television commercials. Count your blessings instead of comparing what you have to what you think everyone else has.
Take care of yourself. Resist over-eating and be sure to get the nourishment you need. Alcoholic beverages tend to be abundant during the holidays. Carefully monitor how much you are drinking. Numbing your feelings and your pain with alcohol will only serve to slow the healing and grieving process; it will also bring other unwanted problems which could lead depression, relationship issues, or legal problems. Get plenty of rest and don’t neglect your exercise routine.
Make a Difference. Helping others during the holiday season can be immensely satisfying. Buy a gift for someone in need or donate to your favorite organization. Helping others in times of grief can help take the focus off your pain and help you to feel better about yourself. Volunteering at a, hospital, children’s shelter, nursing home or holiday meal kitchen can be healing during times of pain. Helping friends or family in need can be therapeutic.
Be a survivor. Even though it is very hard for you right now, you will survive. You will come through the holidays. Even though it is undoubtedly the most difficult season during your time of grieving, this will pass. When come out at the end of season you will likely be stronger than you were before you experienced the loss of your loved one.
Be true to yourself. You don’t have to enjoy everything about the holidays. You don’t even have to go through the motions pretending to enjoy season. But, it’s also okay to have a good time even though you’re grieving. If happiness sneaks in, embrace it and enjoy it. You won’t be betraying your loved one by experiencing joy. The best gift you can give anyone you love, even someone you have lost, is being true to yourself and living your life to the fullest.
Remember. “Relationships don’t end, they only change in nature.” You are still impacted by your loved one’s love, their words still play in your mind, the wisdom they shared still guides, and you still feel their presence. Honor and remember them in whatever way you feel is appropriate: write a letter or card to them, get them a gift, or light a candle in their memory. The relationship will never stop being important to you.
Dealing with the roller coaster of emotions after experiencing a loss can be overwhelming. Sandy can help you sort those those emotions. Call her for an appointment at 480-351-0306.
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