With good reason, holiday seasons are often among the most difficult of times for people who have experienced the death of a loved one. Holidays are intended for times of joy, family togetherness and thankfulness. Yet, if someone in your life has died, holidays can also naturally bring times of sadness, loss and emptiness.
The full sense of loss of a loved one never occurs all at once. The onset of the holiday season often makes you realize how much your life has changed by the loss. A person that has been a vital part of your life is no longer present. You have every right to have feelings of loss, emptiness and sadness. Unfortunately, many people surrounding you, although they mean well may try to take these feelings away.
Friends and family erroneously believe that their job is to distract you from these feelings. To "forget about it," or worse yet to "try to be happy/' as to minimize the profound loss you have experienced.
Many people I have had the privilege to work with, as well as reflecting on my own experiences, suggest that for some of us the anticipation of the holiday is sometimes worse than the day itself. So perhaps your major need is to acknowledge the work needed to survive the natural feelings of "holiday grief."
This speaks of the need to plan ahead in anticipation of this vulnerable time. While there are no simple guidelines to follow that will make it easy to cope with your grief during the holiday season, I offer these following suggestions as a gift to hopefully make your personal experience during the holidays more tolerable.
Talk About Grief. Some people think that not talking about thoughts and feelings of grief will make the pain go away. However, in reality you will help yourself heal by finding people or a professional who will listen and help you feel understood.
Be tolerant of your inability to function at optimum levels during the holiday season. Your feelings of loss will probably leave you feeling fatigued and your energy level will naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you as you work to lower your expectations of operating at normal to high levels of efficiency.
Eliminate Unnecessary Stressors. You will already feel stressed so there is no need in overextending or over-committing yourself. While you do not want to isolate yourself, part of keeping your levels of stress in check is to respect your need to have time for yourself. Others may try to keep you "busy" in an effort to distract you from your grief and perhaps you too will be tempted to keep so busy as to not think of what has happened. Again experience has proven that "keeping busy" really only increases stress and serves to postpone the need to talk about thoughts and feelings related to your loss and grief.
Be with people you find supportive and comforting. Identify those around you that understand that holiday seasons heighten your feelings of loss and allow you to talk about your grief. You don't need to be around people that want to be miserable, however, you also don't need to be around people that want you to maintain a "happy face. "Do what is right for you during the holidays. Well-meaning friends and family may try to prescribe to you what you should do during the holiday season. Sometimes we assume we know what is best for each other. Discuss your plans with trusted family and friends who won't judge the decisions you make about how and with whom you will spend your time. Talking about these decisions out loud often helps clarify what it is you do not want to do during the holidays and it is perfectly ok not to do those things.
Embrace Treasured Memories. One of the best legacies that exists after the death of a loved one, are memories. Holidays usually always stimulate us to think of past times. So, instead of ignoring the memories that come to you share them with family and friends. Memories are often felt with both happiness and sadness. If your memories bring laughter, laugh let yourself smile and if your memories bring sadness, let yourself cry. Remember memories that were made in love can never be taken from you.
Express your faith. Whatever your faith, you may discover a renewed sense of long held beliefs or the evolution of a new set of beliefs during this time. The death of a loved one often creates opportunities to take inventory of one's life as related to past, present and future. The combination of a holiday and the loss in your life will naturally result in self questioning related to the meaning and purpose of life. Find a holiday service to attend.
Final Thoughts. As people who have been blessed with the capacity to give and receive love, we are forever changed by the experience of death in our lives. We do not "get over" our grief, but work to reconcile ourselves to living with it. Holidays naturally will bring a resurgence of intense feelings of loss and sadness. Acknowledging and moving toward these feelings is healthier than attempting to repress or deny them.
Remember! Do not let anyone take your grief away from you during the holiday season. Try to love yourself and allow yourself to be embraced by surrounding yourself with caring, compassionate people.