Are You Ready for the Holidays?
How often have you heard this question? The implied reference is “have your bought all the presents for family and friends for Christmas? Is your home and table ready for guests? Have you done the shopping, baked the goodies and decorated the house? You may not even celebrate Christmas and you are faced with this question as a means of casual conversation! Whether your loss was recent or years ago, underlying grief may be lying wait along with the holidays.
Winter holidays are more than gifts. For most, whether the celebration is Hanukkah or Christmas, even Kwanzaa, the spiritual and cultural meanings are still foremost in the celebration and can be a great source of comfort and tradition. However, once you’ve faced a significant loss, the holidays change, and there is an added stress of recalling memories about your loved one who died. How were they part of the celebrations? What role did he or she take in the meaning and traditions? “Missing” is a big word this time of year.
Starting as early as October, each special day of note – from Halloween to Thanksgiving to New Year’s – carries unspoken traditions, memories, family activities and pangs of loss. It’s no wonder that by the middle of December the pressure can be immense.
Holidays and “the giving season” may have already been emotionally charged for you. Giving “thanks” feels bittersweet. Add the commotion of gatherings, “good cheer” and seeing others enjoy their families may just underscore that you have a hole in your life. As one young woman, whose mother died a short time ago, remarked, “Sometimes I just want to be alone. I don’t want anyone near. Am I normal?” Yes! And wanting to not be alone can be normal too! By voicing her concern aloud and learning that others have felt this way too, she was reassured. Most importantly, she asked and shared her worries. The changes after loss can wax and wane, and sometimes seasons and holidays bring out new, unexpected memories.
Take One Step at a Time, and Whichever One You Need
Silence is not golden. Reflection on your loss, identifying your fears and pain, and giving voice to memories can help you. Grief comes out in a combination of physical, emotional and behavioral changes. So coping solutions can also be found in all these areas, too.
- Walk and talk, or walk and reflect. Physical exercise can be a great release and invigorates your heart and mind. Go alone, or be accountable by walking routinely with a friend.
- Schedule your time with an eye on balance, especially this time of year. It is not necessary to attend every event. But do participate. If you are saying “yes” to everything or “no” to everything, give yourself a check on whether this is a balanced amount of activity in your life.
- “Retire” the traditions that are most difficult if you want. Accept them as past traditions. You can add them back again later when keeping the tradition brings more joy than pain. You can also evolve a new tradition from the old, or create a fresh one you pick up from other friends or families.
- Include self-care time. Read a book, get a massage, enjoy a movie, and yes, indulge in a good cry as needed. Laughter is great, too. Let feelings — all of them — out.
- Help someone else. Ironically, when you reach out to others in need you find a silver lining in your own life.
- Call to talk with a trusted friend, family member or join a support group. Check with your church, hospital, medical center or hospice organizations for resources if you need to find new options.
- Look at how far you’ve come so far in your grief journey. What have you learned? Are you doing some things today that a few days, weeks or months ago you didn’t think you could? Measure what is working for you. And if it works, do it again.
- Write to remember! Give purpose to your words. Write for Grief Reflection in the Navigating Grief Community. Wrap up the perfect journal and give it to yourself — something you can’t wait to write in. Frame a photo -– be sure to write up and include the story along with it. Create memory storycards using our exclusive online (launches November, 2012) — one simple but important memory at a time. For more writing ideas, read Stories Can Heal.
- Assess the stress. Is it external, i.e., other people’s expectations on you, or internal, i.e., the pressure you put on yourself to do it all? Either way, decide what is best for you and give yourself permission to change your mind, make different plans, leave early or stay a little longer when you are enjoying yourself. You can’t change how other people act, but you can manage how your respond and what choices you make.
- Remind yourself that “this too shall pass.” Some moments may be feel like they get suspended in time, but stop, take a deep breath and allow yourself to experience the feelings right in the moment.
As busy as you may be taking care of everyone else, be sure to give yourself time and room for your grief. Sometimes all it takes is just a little bit of acknowledgment and a deep breath to take one step farther on the long road toward healing. The first year is the most changed, but no year is ever the same. The holidays, like every week and every month, now become part of your new normal.
Navigating Grief extends our best wishes to you and your family this holiday season and into the new year.