Grieving during the holidays is like riding a giant, wooden roller coaster that you never even wanted to get in line for in the first place. You go up and down, you get queasy, your body feels banged up and you never know what turn is coming next.
(Fellow ACNM blogger, Rita Suva, posted an excellent article on holiday grief that you can read here. She describes the ups and downs of celebrating Advent and Christmas when you are grieving the loss of someone.)
Grief can steal the light from any holiday, especially when they’re centered around family and togetherness. Holidays bring so many memories of loved ones, so many reminders of what we once shared with them – sights, sounds, smells, songs, decorations, traditions, foods… It may seem that everything is a reminder of our loved one and the life we used to live with them. It’s no wonder that we may get washed in more waves of grief during this time, no matter how much time has (or hasn’t) passed.
You may experience a range of things as you navigate this time of parties and 24/7 exposure to decorations and music – anything from exhaustion to crying spells to irritability. These are all normal and even expected reactions to missing someone during the holidays. Some additional things you may experience include:
- Impaired judgement and decision making skills
- Decreased ability to cope
- Small tasks will appear huge
- Foggy brain/muddled thoughts
- Both little and big things will go wrong, and it will seem as if things will never go smoothly again
- Anger at others who are not grieving
- Feeling disconnected or isolated
So what can you do to get by? Here are a few helpful tips (compiled from Susan Cox and other members of The Christi Center, and the book Healing Your Holiday Grief by Alan Wolfelt):
- Be compassionate with yourself.
- Be compassionate and gentle with yourself as you encounter painful feelings and thoughts. Self-compassion in grief is important all the time, but especially now during the holidays. You are allowed to feel what you feel. You’re not crazy. I repeat, you are NOT crazy. Take all the time you need.
- Savor the moment
- Looking at the holidays as a whole can be overwhelming. Instead, try focusing on one day at a time, or even a couple hours at a time. If you find yourself dwelling on what might happen, ground yourself by focusing on your senses: what are you feeling, smelling, hearing, seeing right now?
- Keep what matters.
- Make a list of all your holiday traditions and circle those that you think are most essential.
- Prepare to answer the tough questions.
- Think about and prepare a response to the “How are you?” question.
- Plan in some alone time.
- Tell people close to you that you need time alone, and take your phone off the hook.
- Take good care of yourself.
- Get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids (limit the alcoholic ones), and eat well.
- Simplify gift-giving.
- Ask a friend for help with shopping and wrapping; stick to cards or the same small gift for everyone.
- Laughter and humor.
- It’s okay to laugh. It’s okay not to laugh. Laughter and humor can help us survive the pain of grief and help us get through the moment.
- Schedule something that gives you pleasure each and every day.
- Welcome moments of enjoyment wherever you find them. Give yourself something to look forward to everyday, no matter how small.
- Say no.
- It’s OK to say no when you’re asked to help with a project or attend a party.
- Ignore hurtful advice.
- If someone gives you hurtful advice, give yourself permission to tell them honestly how it makes you feel, or simply walk away.
- Plan for other holidays and anniversaries.
- Make plans to spend the day with loved ones, or some time reflecting alone – whatever works best for you. Making a plan, from start to finish, can help get you through the day.
- If you’re alone, find ways to connect with others.
- Receiving support from others can be healing; invite a neighbor to dinner or reach out to a friend that may also be spending the holiday alone.
The bottom line is that grieving through the holidays may not be fun or easy – but it is possible. You can get through it. Remember: you don’t grieve to get over someone. Just because your physical relationship with that person has ended, doesn’t mean you still don’t have a relationship with them. It’s just different. You are allowed to remember them, have memorials of them, set a place for them at the holiday table, talk to them, write to them and pray for them. Grief doesn’t have to mean it’s over – it’s just different.
If you would like additional support during this time, there are resources right here in Austin that understand and can provide help for individuals and groups: