For some of us, the “joy” of the holidays can feel like a punch in the gut. At this time of year, grief can leave us feeling like we’re stuck “in the bleak midwinter” and we’d rather pull the duvet up over our heads than start “rockin’ around the Christmas tree”.
Holidays have a way of amplifying our grief. Nostalgia runs high this time of year and we get stuck in memories of the way things used to be, isolating us from the merriment in front of us.
The Grief Recovery Institute defines grief as, “the conflicting feelings caused by the end or change in a familiar pattern of behaviour.” Family traditions around the holidays (aka familiar patterns of behaviour) seem to magnify what’s missing.
- Kids who now have to be shuttled back and forth after a divorce instead of all snuggling in one bed to open stockings together.
- A grandfather no longer there to tell the story of the Maccabees and light the menorah.
- The lost job that means presents will be fewer and smaller than last year.
The first holiday without a loved one is a heartache we can probably all relate to but did you know there are over 40 losses that can trigger grief?
- Divorce / romantic break-up
- Pet loss
- Financial change
- Job loss
- Getting married
- Psychological diagnosis (i.e. depression, anxiety)
- Loss of trust, safety, or control
- Loss of pregnancy (miscarriage, stillbirth, termination)
- Loss of health (injury or illness)
- Loss of freedom
- Loss of childhood
Here’s what we know (true any time of the year)…
Time does not heal all wounds. Ignoring it won’t change anything. You can spend a lifetime waiting for the pain to ease.
Giving someone space doesn’t heal anything. Grieving alone leaves you feeling isolated and lonely. We need to be surrounded by people who can support us without judgment. People we can lean on. Asking for help takes courage but the people who love us DO want to help.
Be strong. When you white knuckle it through the holidays you miss the joy. Find people who can hold space for your big, uncomfortable, ‘messy’ feelings without asking you to “keep it together”.
Logic won’t fix your grief. We often try to rationalize or reason away the uncomfortable feelings of grief. “At least they’re not suffering anymore.” “At least you got the time you did with them.” When a relationship ends we hear, “it wasn’t meant to be.” While all those things may be true – it doesn’t change the way you feel. It doesn’t make negotiating life after loss any easier. Instead, it denies the truth of your heart and keeps you feeling stuck and sad.
Replace the loss. This is often the advice we receive after a romantic relationship ends or we lose a pet. We hear things like, “you just need to start dating again/put yourself out there.” Or well-intentioned people remind us that there are many pets waiting for a good home in the local shelter. Replacing the previous relationship with someone new doesn’t help you complete the grief, instead you just carry the pain forward (and then wonder why things don’t work out with the new person).
Keep busy. The classic avoid-your-feelings-so-you-don’t-have-to-deal-with-them advice (my default tactic ;). Focus on your work/kids/ANYTHING but the loss. Because if you cram every second of your day with activities then you won’t have time to dwell on your grief. That doesn’t mean it goes away though. In fact, it’ll be waiting for you like the extra 10lbs you gain every year from too many festive treats (also my default).
Action is necessary to heal from a loss.
(but not the kind of action that keeps you distracted and avoiding your grief like those listed above, because they simply. don’t. work)
Here are a few things you can try this holiday season that honour your grief and loss.
- Find support. You’re not alone (though it can definitely feel that way), check to see if your local church (if that’s your thing) has a Blue Christmas service. Or you can invite friends over and light a candle in memory of your loved one, cook their favourite meal together and then watch their favourite holiday movie.
- Write a letter. Catch your loved one up on everything that’s been going on. Say everything you always wanted to say. Or, if you’re suffering from a financial loss, write a letter to money (I know, I know it sounds silly but it works!) and express how you’d like to get reacquainted again.
- Give to a charity in their name. Donate to your local animal shelter if you’re grieving the loss of your pet. Volunteer your time with the favourite charity of your loved one or raise money in their name. For the last 5 years running my gal pals and I have gathered together to fill shoeboxes of love for women in need. (find out more about this charity here https://www.shoeboxproject.com) Giving to others always feels good and nurtures the deep feelings of connection that we all crave, and need.
To further nurture myself over the holidays I also amp up my self-care which often looks like:
- Giving myself permission to say no to various invitations (since I know I have a tendency to over-extend myself by saying yes to everything and everyone)
- Getting to bed around the same time every night (my flannel sheets are already on because I love feeling cozy)
- Allowing myself to truly reset and recharge by keeping whitespace in my calendar (instead of jamming it full as per point #1 above) so I can honour my needs
- Eating well when I can AND allowing for sweet indulgences because c’mon, nothing beats homemade baking! I simply enjoy them in moderation by being mindful and making a conscious decision (vs mindlessly stuffing myself silly and clearing the tray…just me?!)
If you find the holidays are already starting to intensify whatever losses you’re navigating (death, divorce, job, etc.) and you’d like a little more support (or to continue this conversation) please reach out to me at hello[at]innertravelcoaching[dot]com. Or if you know someone who is struggling, please send this invitation along as sometimes we just need a little nudge to know we’re not alone in our grief.