We all know the expectations of the holiday season. Happy people enjoying perfectly cooked meals. Families gathering together in perfect harmony. No room for tears...only smiles.
But when you’ve lost someone, the holidays can feel anything but happy. And the last thing you feel like doing is celebrating. Although the first season can often be the most difficult, it doesn't matter how long someone has been gone. The same feelings can remain or resurface years and even decades later.
The desire to withdraw from friends, family and activities can be great, and may seem like a good idea. But like a mushroom blooming in darkness, trying to avoid the feelings of sadness and loss only leads to the feelings becoming stronger. Left unchecked, this can lead to overwhelm, and even physical symptoms.
Here are some of the most common signs that your grief is negatively impacting you:
❖ Low energy
❖ Trying to avoid thinking about the person who was lost
❖ Wanting to focus only on the loss and none of the positive around you
❖ Tucking your feelings away and pretending - even to yourself - that everything is ok
❖ Avoiding friends, family, activities
❖ Trying to do too much and not asking for help
❖ Feeling resentment at pictures of happy families on tv and social media
Make small adjustments to help you cope with your grief.
But you don’t need to dread the holiday season. There are ways to cope. There is no panacea, and nothing will take the place of having your loved one with you. But by making a few intentional shifts, this time of year doesn’t have to feel like such a burden. Here are some examples:
Let others know what you need
Allow others to help with shopping, cooking, etc.
Know and accept that you will be sad, instead of trying to put on a happy face
Listen to your body when you need to be alone, but not so much that you are isolating yourself
Limit or avoid social media, unless it is absolutely adding value
Set aside time for daily self care:
Go for a walk
Take a bath
Call a friend
Cozy upon the couch with a good book or movie
Get a massage
Anything that helps you feel comforted and fills you back up
Planning ahead for rituals can help you regain a sense of control.
It may feel as though you have no control, that all you can do is react to the pain of your loss.
Plan ahead to set aside time to remember your loved ones. This can offer you a sense of control. In planning how you will incorporate your feelings of loss, it will free up space for you to experience the joy and connection around you. Maybe incorporate a ritual that is meaningful to you and your family.
Here are some ideas, but you can do anything that is meaningful to you and your own particular situation:
Set an empty chair at the dinner table
Make their favorite recipe
Visit the cemetery where they are buried
Pray alone or as a family
Light candles in remembrance of your loved one
Volunteer at a cause they were passionate about
Write about them in a journal
Write them a letter telling them what they meant to you
Share stories about them as a group
Reminisce about happy memories
Make a picture collage
Grief and Joy: A parallel process.
When I provide grief therapy, I explain to my clients that the path of grief is a parallel process: Experiencing the uncomfortable emotions like sadness, while at the same time being able to allow room for joy.
It can be difficult to imagine feeling happy again, particularly when the loss was very recent. But over time, allowing yourself to laugh again, to feel joy again, will also allow you to carry your loss in a way that does not overwhelm you. And you will be able to relish in the good memories you have of your lost loved one.
A few ideas to bring some joy to this holiday season:
Watch a funny movie or tv show
Play board games with your family
Go to a comedy club
Wrap presents together and feel the joy of giving
Be of service to others
Help is available if you need it.
Family and trusted friends can be an invaluable support during times of loss. But there are times when that support is not enough. If you are struggling to navigate your grief process, I provide grief counseling in Marietta, GA. Please contact me at 678-631-8099 so we can talk about how I might be able to help.