As we begin to celebrate the holiday season, I am constantly reminded that not everyone is joyous and looking forward to the upcoming weeks. For everyone who is excited and anxiously awaiting Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is someone else who is grieving the death of a loved one, has received difficult news or is struggling with some aspect of their life.
I was hesitant to write another post about grief and the holidays. It is something that I discuss every year at this time and I walk with my own grief each holiday season. However, every year there is someone who is experiencing new grief or for the first time. Many may feel they can not make it through the next several weeks but today I want to share that it is possible to cope with grief during the holidays.
For Everyone Who Is Grieving:
I first want to acknowledge and say that I am sorry for your loss. The words provide little comfort but I also know it is important for someone to recognize that this will be the first Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year without your loved one. The holidays force us to feel that everyone is spending significant amounts of time with loved ones and this only makes your own loss feel more prominent.
This will be my fourth holiday season after losing my closest biological family. I’ve coped in various ways such as leaving town, hosting my own celebrations and going through the motions. None of the versions were unhealthy and each was what I needed at that time. This year, I still have sadness at the thought of my Nanny’s homemade dressing and macaroni and cheese, along with my Mom’s Turkey. However, sadness is not my predominant emotion. Someday, it will not be yours.
Grieving takes time and is work. Be kind with your expectations, seek counseling and support if that is something you need. Know you can cope with your grief.
As significant religious and national holidays approach, you are likely reminded by the past rituals such as family dinners and family get togethers. The loss of loved ones is especially obvious at these events and can often be very difficult.
The first step as the holidays approach is to look at the weeks ahead and anticipate the dates, events and moments which may be difficult. Of course, difficult times can pop up unexpectedly but when we are dreading certain events, we can make a game plan.
Once you have anticipated what may be difficult, think of ways which you could possible make the event easier. Examples can be Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps this is the year the family goes out for Thanksgiving dinner, or someone else takes on the role of host or you even purchase the food from the grocery.
With the Holiday season comes multiple expectations. Do you decorate? Do you accept invitations to parties even though you don’t feel like being with people? Do you buy presents although you don’t want to go out to the store?
If you are grieving or dealing with other difficulties, be kind to yourself and try to give yourself permission to not do everything you have done in the past. Chose one or two events that you truly may want to go to and politely decline the others. In regards to decorating, realize that what you do this year is not what you will do next year. If you are someone who decorates your whole house (me), realize it is OK to not decorate every room. If you find that there are certain items which are too painful due to memories, realize you do not have to pull them out this year. As far as gift giving, I remind people that most people love a gift card (just make sure you a card that doesn’t expire) or you can shop online and have gifts delivered. If you feel you must shop, plan your trip for times that are not as busy and perhaps choose stores which may not be difficult. (A special plug here for Target, Target stores do not play overhead music and if you are someone who is grieving you are not going to be overwhelmed with holiday songs while you shop).
As everyone gets caught up in the Holidays, many friends and even family members may forget that you are going through a difficult time or that this is the first Holiday without your loved one. Each of us need to let our family and friends know what we need during the Holidays. Share with people those events you have anticipated may be difficult or painful. Let others know that you are only choosing to attend a few events. It is also important to note that if you do go to parties or other events, drive yourself and don’t feel as if you are dependent upon another person to take you home. It is also OK to remind your loved ones that there may be days when you simply don’t know what you want or need.
Delete The Shoulds
If you are a consistent reader of this blog, you know I ask my clients and attempt to practice myself, letting go of the word SHOULD. Saying you should, automatically criticizes yourself. By saying you should be doing something, you are saying to yourself that you aren’t meeting an expectation. My question is always where is the expectation coming from?
During the Holidays there are many unsaid shoulds. Such as: you should decorate your house in all of the ways you have seen on Pinterest and in the magazines. You should hand make personal gifts for all of your friends. You should be baking and cooking magnificent desserts and dinners. You should have cute, adorable family pictures taken. Geez, just typing that all out is exhausting.
When you place things as a should, when you do not accomplish – you feel that you have failed. Attempt to change the wording to “would like to”. Most importantly, remember that not being able to accomplish that long list doesn’t make you a bad person. Be kind to yourself.
Everyday Take Time For Yourself
During the holidays, it is more important than ever to take time for yourself. Don’t let go of the exercise routine or the time you meditate. Continue to schedule time with people who bring you balance. Perhaps this will even become the time you begin to practice self care. Stop each day and ask yourself what you need? Once you find the answer, don’t forget to find some way to obtain it.
I’m thinking of everyone who is grieving. Know you are not alone and that you can cope with your grief.