Through the Grief Lens

When Grief Collides With Holiday Stress

Your loss, as  a caregiver or after a death,  impacts every tradition, activity and thought this time of year. You are understandably seeing your holidays through the grief lens – who’s missing, what doesn’t work, the people who don’t get it, fatigue, gratitude, deep emptiness, putting on a mask to get through, big changes.

You don’t have much say about the world around you this time of year. Some people will be annoyingly happy. There is the onslaught of pressure to buy, buy, buy. You are likely to be asked, or insisted upon, to attend functions by well meaning friends or co-workers. Moods change without notice. Holidays are often stressful in the best years, but this year in your grief, everything is magnified. It’s like someone is using the zoom lens to hone in big on one subject: Life and holidays are not the same any more. But like a camera, you do have a choice to change or add a filter to help soften, sharpen, widen or bring your picture into a new focus.

Your world and life is changed. The picture needs adjusting. Here are three filters you can apply as ways to help de-stress your holidays.

  • The Simplify Filter. Ask yourself, “What is the simplest way to approach this situation?” For example, who says decorating must be everything you’ve ever done before? You can simply do only what is important to provide enough decor  to honor the past and present. Stick with it. Simplify might mean doing half of what you might have done in past years. If you shop, you might give a single family gift rather than all the individual presents. You could even ask for a “year off” from giftsgiving! (see Communication Filter). If you’ve been the host, share the responsibilities, delegate or step aside for another person to host. To simplify is not giving up what you want to do, it is about doing what is most comforting with your limited energy or resources.
  •  The Communication Filter. Honesty really is a great policy. Be honest with yourself as well as direct with  others. If an end-of-the-week-Friday-night-gathering-potluck-with-a-white-elephant-gift among co-workers who have been telling you to “get over it” doesn’t sound like fun, do you really go? First, know for yourself what the obstacle might be – emotional, physical or grief – then make the appropriate choice best for you. Grief zaps energy, so decide what adds to your life. In any social circle, diplomacy is called for, so assess your options honestly for personal insight and act accordingly. Write or talk with a trusted person to get to the center of your concern; once you know how you are really feeling, it will be easier to express to others.
  •  The Wellness Filter. Does what you do serve your health of mind, body and spirit? Temptations for food, drinking, staying out late, overdoing and shoulds predominate the holiday season. Taking care of you during this time of both holiday stress and grief is doubly important. What does wellness look like for you? Are you putting yourself aside for others? Whenever you are faced with temptations, put on the Wellness filter — will you “feel good” about your choices later? Or is your instinct worried about regrets? Wellness is often about balance. And even more about making sure you put on your oxygen mask first before tending to others. Ask yourself, “Am I seeking to balance my life with healthy food, sleep, socializing, exercise, (fill in your blank) and work?”

Indulgences are part of the holidays. They have a time and a place. But fulfilling your sense of wanting and even deserving the richness of the season is often at odds with your grief. Plus, in opposition to the extra social activities, December is a time to naturally begin to withdraw or hibernate with the onset of the cold winter months. This is when nature goes dormant to replenish. It’s no wonder there is a confusing pull on whether to stay or go, to grieve or celebrate.

The suggestion? Take each day anew the best you can as you have one foot in the past, and one in the present, as well as a sight into the future. After all, this where the traditions arise. They are built over time not any single year. Making an adjustment — adding a filter — to your current surroundings and needs is a necessary part of the grief journey.

Remember, too, this is not a time to deny yourself. If you find comfort in the company of others and being the host, go ahead. If tears flow unexpectedly, acknowledge that they come from love and loss. You are human. Loss teaches just what that means. So when anger of being left behind fights for attention over gratitude, it’s normal. If getting that gift or potluck dish didn’t get done because you couldn’t get out of bed, that is the truth of grief. If you haven’t been able to participate in traditions or ceremonies as fully and present as you’d like, recognize that your loyalty, faith or spirituality is not defined on one single day. Through grief and holidays, doing the best in the moment is good enough!

Each day is a new picture of life. You start again today. Your journey of healing moves in motion one frame at a time.

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