Holiday Survival Guide (Week 7): GRIEF AND THE HOLIDAYS
So much about the way we tend to celebrate major holidays in this country sets us up for having a whole smattering of feelings. We put a lot of emphasis on family time and coming together. Which is great! Until it isn’t.
When we’ve lost someone close to us, or experience particularly rough memories around family time and the holidays, this time of year might not feel so cheery. In fact, it can be really, really hard for a lot of us.
While friends and coworkers are traveling home for Christmas, shopping for presents for their children, or setting up a holiday display in their cubicle, many of us might feel hopeless, lonely, and very very far away from all of the joy and cheer around us. Loss of any kind can dampen our holiday cheer with some very real bah-humbug energy and y’now what?
I think that is friggin’ fair.
GRIEF IS HARD
Grief is hard. Loss is hard. Wintertime and holiday expectations and family dinners can all be really hard. Getting through all of it is hard. Put everything together and I’d say you have permission to bah-humbug all you want. You also can totally do hard things.
Taking care of ourselves this time of year is of utmost importance. Especially when our experience is one of grief. Give yourself some space to have those feelings. On top of grief, sadness, and shame we might already be feeling, the holidays have a way of amplifying it all. There are expectations, reminders, and family members or friends who might be critical of our grief. It is a lot. So, here are a few helpful tips for surviving the holidays, even with grief.
FEEL YOUR FEELINGS
It can be tempting to put on a brave face and shove all of our feelings down into “I’ll deal with this later” land. The trouble is that often those big, big feelings demand to be seen. They can come in gentle whispers or loud gale-force winds. Saving our hard feelings for later doesn’t necessarily do what we want it to do. Giving ourselves the space to feel what we’re feeling also gives us space to heal.
DO WHAT YOU NEED TO DO
Some of us will cope and process grief by wanting to celebrate our holidays exactly how we always have. Some of us will want to do it completely differently. Honor that. When you’re thinking of holiday plans and preparing for family time, do what will be most soothing and supportive for you.
TAKE CARE OF YOU
Now, more than ever is a really good time to focus on taking care of yourself. Skip chaotic family dinners, go to bed early, go to bed late, decide that you can only talk to your family members after you’ve had time for yourself. Do whatever you need to do for your soft and squishy self.
When I think about grief around the holidays, I often think of the guilt and shame that can come up for us. It can be hard to carry on in our lives chasing joy and happiness while we’re also holding all of the grief. We can feel really guilty when we feel joy! We might even stop ourselves from feeling “good” things. If you find yourself humming to holiday music or giggling with glee as a young family member rips into their gifts, don’t stop yourself! Allow yourself the space to feel joy as often as you can.
HONOR THE LOST
Honor those who aren’t there to celebrate with you. Hang their stocking, set a place for them at the table, or buy the person behind you in line at Starbucks the beverage of their choice. Let yourself find new ways of thinking and being when this person’s face pops to mind. Celebrate their legacy, share their wishes, and create new holiday memories that still include those who you might be grieving.
Reach out to family members, friends, or mental health professionals for help. None of this has to be felt alone. A google search for grief support groups in your city can provide a plethora of groups led by those who can support, care for, and help you heal in your own way, in your own time.
GRIEF AND THE HOLIDAYS: THE TAKEAWAY
Life isn’t always simple, especially during the holidays, and yet we are here doing it every day. Keep going. Do your best in the next couple of weeks to honor your feelings, do what you need to take care of yourself and to get the support you need.
If you are thinking about suicide or worried about a loved one, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24/7 1-800-273-8255.