Categories > Grief Recovery

Grief and the Holidays

The holidays can be a very difficult time whether you are experiencing a recent loss or a loss from a long time ago. Holiday activities such as drinking hot chocolate, watching Christmas movies, and spending time with close family and friends can make us miss our loved ones even more. We may experience feelings of sadness, frustration, and loneliness or feel as though we are alone in our pain. The holidays are inevitable, thus, we have to make a conscious effort to be attuned to our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Further, it is essential that we are attentive to our emotions and intentional with our actions. Although these times can be challenging there are a few strategies that can be helpful as we transition through the holiday season.

Reach out to others

After experiencing a loss we sometimes feel alone in our pain and emotions. When we feel alone this can lead us to isolation and minimal socialization. The fact is, you are not alone and others around you may be experiencing pain and suffering of their own. During the holidays, do not be afraid to reach out to your friends and family or others who have offered support. Sometimes we may just want to share a memory about someone we lost, talk about our feelings, or share what we are missing. Additionally, other family members may be eager to share as well, but resist because they do not want to burden others with their pain. When we grieve, we want to feel heard, validated, and supported. Lean on someone who will listen to you without judgment, analysis, or criticism and understand that grief is not a quick fix. When we have the opportunity to share with a safe person, we can experience an emotional release after sharing what was weighted so heavily on our chest.

It is also important not compare your losses when you are sharing with others. When we compare our losses it minimizes our feelings and takes away from our individual relationships. We will never truly understand what someone is going through because we each have our own unique relationships to the individual we are grieving. Be open to a variety of losses, individual experiences and different feelings associated with the loss.

Don’t ignore your feelings

Grief and loss is painful, heart wrenching, and emotionally draining. Through my own loss I felt as though my heart was bleeding and there was no medicine or band-aid that could stop it. Although we experience deep pain, it is important not to ignore or internalize how we are feeling. It seems easy to turn away from the pain because it hurts so much; however ignoring how we feel just buries the pain and becomes cumulatively negative. When we bury the pain it doesn’t go away, rather stays within us and builds up until we reach an emotional boiling point. Be gentle and acknowledge how you are feeling. Unfortunately with grief, we have to go through the pain, not over, below, or around it.

Maintain your traditions 

 Over the holidays it can be helpful to maintain traditions. Although our physical relationship with our loved one may have come to an end, our emotional and spiritual relationship will continue forever. Even though our loved ones aren’t here in present day, we can honor our relationships by maintaining traditions. Honoring traditions creates a safe space, opportunity for communication, and for stories to be shared. Whether these stories make you cry or make you laugh, it is normal experience to feel several emotions. Be intentional with the traditions that are important to you. You may discover some traditions that you want to keep, some you are ready to move forward from and also create new traditions in the process.

My dad’s birthday is December 28th, and every year since he died, we always have dinner with close family friends. We reminisce about our memories with him and talk about our current lives and hope and dreams for the future. This tradition helps me keep my emotional and spiritual relationship with him alive and continue to incorporate him in my life.

Let go of expectations

Sometimes we plan or have expectations about how we are going to feel around the holidays. Allow yourself to feel and invite all emotions during this holiday season. At times you may feel sadness but you also may find yourself experiencing happiness and laughter. When this happens we sometimes feel guilty or feel as though we shouldn’t feel happiness at this time. When we grieve, all emotions are normal and natural including happiness and laughter. If you wake up Christmas morning and feel happy, welcome this emotion. When we have expectations about how we are supposed to feel is can cause confusion or we may think we shouldn’t feel our current emotions. We can’t predict how we will feel, we will only know until we are in that present moment. Letting go of these expectations and inviting all emotions will allow you to be authentic and honest with your grief and healing.

Take care of yourself

Be gentle with yourself and listen to your heart and your body. Over the holidays be conscious and intentional about your self care routines. Self-care can include a massage, yoga class, watching a movie, socializing with friends, and exercising. It is natural for us to want to fill our time with work, school, or other activities to avoid the pain. Self-care is different as we take the time to acknowledge what we need physically and emotionally to help us cope. Be intentional and listen to what your body and heart needs, as it will support you on your emotional journey.

Additionally, be gentle with yourself and practice self-compassion. You have experienced a heart wrenching loss and do not need to be tough and strong. True strength includes caring for yourself, being attuned to your emotions, vulnerability, and being honest about how you feel. Be compassionate towards yourself and let go of expectations of where you think you should be with your grief, pain, and healing. Kristen Neff said,  “With self-compassion we give ourselves the same kindness and care we would give to a good friend.”

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, and edited by Ashley Mielke, Owner and Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Photo credit: www.ottawacancer.ca/holiday-grief

References:

Neff, K. (2013). Self compassion. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Why a Change in Health is a Form of Grief

Our bodies and health will naturally progress and change throughout our lives. Health could be affected by diets, injuries, accidents or unexpected illnesses. Personally, I had a change to my health at the young age of 19. I tore my MCL in my knee during a provincial bronze medal soccer game. I was devastated, as I had played soccer my whole life and managed not to sustain any major injuries. After my knee injury, I spent 2 months in crutches and spent a year attending physiotherapy to make sure my knee was strong again. Since the injury I have retired from playing soccer and can no longer run recreationally like I used to. I grieved losing my athletic endurance, stability, and flexibility. My knee will still seize on me at random times during the day and I will need to ice and elevate it to get it back to normal.  My lifestyle changed immensely as the hobbies I used to love were robbed from me because of my injury. 

Have you ever considered a change in your health as a form of grief and loss? John James and Russell Friedman define grief as the “conflicting feelings caused by an end or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” A change in health can create conflicting feelings and our emotional reactions can be confusing. For me, I was grateful that I could still exercise but sad I could not run the same way I used to. Changes in health can cause limitations, change in routine and lifestyle, alterations to your hopes and dreams as well as acceptance of your new reality. As we experience these changes it can create feelings of sadness, hopelessness, disappointment, and frustration. 

Limitations: After experiencing a change in your health you may bump into some limitations within your life. For some, a change in health could put limits on their ability to work and exercise, and interfere with their daily activities. Additionally, dietary restrictions and allergies can be a major health change that can make us feel limited and restrained. These limits and restrictions may include a change in grocery bills, limitations for eating out, requiring special accomodations in social events and a concerted effort to meet dietary needs. This process could be isolating and frustrating especially if it is not by choice.

Change in routine/lifestyle: When we have a major change to our health we may not be able to do what we used to, therefore we experience a change in our daily routines and lifestyle. These changes can trigger more loss and feelings of unhappiness, hopelessness, and sadness. It is important to know that a variety of emotions could be felt through these transitions and it is normal to feel them. In confidence and anonymously a young woman shared her story about her grief process following a dirt biking accident:

“I experienced a traumatic dirt biking accident that would change my life forever. My experience in the hospital was terrifying and anxiety provoking. I suffered severe injuries in my legs to the point where the doctors were concerned I would lose them. Every day the doctors would come into my room and check to see if there was a pulse in my leg and make sure they were still functioning properly. I was anxious and worried every day and hoped that I was not going to hear the worst. After many months in the hospital, steel plates and a multitude of screws, I was released from the hospital with two active legs. My healing process was lonely and isolating at times because no one knew what I was going through. There were nights that I would have nightmares about the accident and it was terrifying to re-experience it. At times I felt frustrated and hopeless that my life was not going to be better or the same for that matter.

 I nearly lost my life and my ability to walk. Being alive and healthy is something I am eternally grateful for. With that said, my life has changed forever, including my lifestyle and daily routine. Although I am happy to be alive, I grieve my old routines and lifestyle. Some losses that have triggered feelings of grief include not being able to ride dirt bikes again because of my injuries, the constant pain I experience every day, and losing full range of mobility. I had to make changes in my job such as continuously elevate my leg because it swells and I cannot take my dog on long walks. Additionally, my scars embody both of my legs and I do not like to wear shorts because it makes me uncomfortable, especially when people stare. These losses have made me feel frustrated, heartbroken, sad, and hopeless. I have felt conflicting feelings throughout this process being extremely grateful to be alive, but also feeling devastated of the new challenges I am overcoming.” 

Hopes, dreams and expectations: We all have hopes and dreams that we strive and work hard to accomplish. If we experience a health condition that impedes on our journey towards our dreams this can create feelings of grief. For example, if you dreamed of running the Boston Marathon but ended up suffering a massive injury that caused you not to run anymore, you may feel lost, disappointed, and sad. If you were in a tragic car accident, suffered permanent damage, and unable to do the things you once dreamed of, your hopes and expectations of yourself could be negated. If you suffered a brain injury and could not continue with the job or education you love you may feel discouraged and sad knowing you have to start a new career path. 

Health related changes can create immense feelings of hopelessness and disappointment. Regardless of what emotions you feel, be gentle with yourself. You are experiencing a major life transition and do not need to “figure it out” immediately. We must acknowledge and validate our emotions, be attentive to our emotions, and find healing at our own pace.

If you are struggling to overcome the pain, isolation, or loneliness caused by a loss of health, accident, injury, or illness in your life, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. We can be reached at 780-288-8011 or info@healmyheart.ca

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, and edited by Ashley Mielke, Owner and Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Photo credit: https://www.mackesysmye.com/articles-resources/personal-injury/pain-and-suffering

Signs of a Grieving Child

Unfortunately most children will experience grief and loss before entering into adulthood. Some forms of loss that a child could experience include divorce, death in the family, pet loss, moving, and bullying. As parents, teachers, caregivers, and adults, it is our responsibility to be aware of the signs, emotions, and reactions a child may exhibit in response to grief. This blog will provide indicators that a child may be grieving and provide a set of questions you can ask the child to help them express their emotions. 

Mood Changes: Every child and individual will grieve and express their emotions in their own unique way. There is no “right or wrong” way to grieve or show your emotions. Additionally, not everyone will have the same responses and emotional expressions at the time of a loss. With that said, adults should be prepared to acknowledge a variety of emotions the child may express and understand that all feelings are a normal and natural response to grief. It is normal to have some good days and some bad days. Additionally, a child may have sudden or postponed mood changes depending on certain triggers or situations they are in. Although this is a normal occurrence with loss, it is a sign that the child could be grieving and may be seeking support.

Changes in Sleep Patterns: Similar to adults, after a loss or a life change a child may have sleep disturbances. Children could either spend too much time sleeping, be in and out of sleep, or not be sleeping at all. If you notice a child is having sleep disturbances you can ask them questions such as “What are you thinking about”, “Why do you want to stay in bed all day?” These open ended questions allow for conversation where the child can begin to share what is causing their sleep disturbances. Having an open and honest conversation with your child creates a safe and secure place to express their emotions without judgment or criticism. If your child is having difficulties falling asleep, a tool you can use is the “headspace app for kids” which offers meditation strategies that helps young children fall asleep.

Changes in Normal Activities: Children are usually involved in recreational activities, enjoy spending time with friends, being with family, and engaging in free play. If you notice your child is no longer enjoying or wanting to participate in activities they used to have pleasure in then it would be important to investigate why. Let’s use the example of Emily. Emily is 11 years old and enjoys going to dance on Tuesdays and Thursdays, likes to spend time with her best friend Emma, and playing soccer with her dad on Saturdays is the highlight of her week. After the sudden passing of her family dog she no long wanted to play soccer with her dad on Saturdays. Her dad became worried and decided to ask Emily “Why don’t you like to play soccer on Saturdays?” Emily responded by saying “I just don’t.” Dad replied and said “Well I am always here if you want to play.”  A few hours later Emily came up to her dad and explained that she didn’t want to play soccer because her dog Lola was unable to join them and it made her sad. Dad patiently listened to Emily cry and explain how she was feeling and told her that when she felt ready they could play soccer again. Letting your child know that you are available when they are willing to communicate is important. Although some signs could be subtle, it is essential we are attuned and aware of the individual changes that could stem from grief. 

Isolation: One of the myths about grief and loss is “Grieve Alone”. You may be wondering why this is a myth? Children and individuals may isolate and grieve alone if they feel that they do not want to burden others with their feelings. During special times in our lives it is simpler for people to want to celebrate with us rather than grieve with us. Additionally we have been taught to “shake it off” or “not to worry”, therefore when our pain and grief is so heart-wrenching it is easier to hide it from others and grieve alone. Just like when we celebrate the positive changes and events in our lives, we need to also be there to support children during the challenging and difficult times. Having open communication and informing the child that you are emotionally available for them at all times is important. When a child does share something with you, refrain from comments suggesting they need to “not feel bad” or to isolate. Some comments to avoid are “go to your room if you need to cry”, “when you’re done crying, then we can talk”, and “big girls don’t cry”. 

Shifts in Energy: Emotional pain is exhausting, draining, and uses up a lot of our mental and emotional capacity. When a child is grieving it is normal for them to have a change in their energy levels. Energy could fluctuate and a child could have a lot of energy or minimal energy. Sometimes when we grieve we want to keep ourselves busy, therefore we miraculously find extra energy. When this happens, we will eventually begin to feel emotional burnout yet our grief and pain still remains. If you are finding the child is irritable, having difficulty falling asleep, and is over-stimulated during the day, this is something to pay attention to. On the other hand, grief can make us groggy, fatigued, and unmotivated to do our regular activities. This also occurs because our pain and emotions are so strong it becomes draining and difficult to do other things in life. For a child if you see that they are not wanting to get out of bed, having more naps than usual, or feeling fatigued, it is something to pay attention too.

These signs of grief are a normal and natural response after a loss. It is important as adults that we don’t misinterpret that there is something wrong with the child or that this behavior is abnormal. Grief is complicated, therefore our feelings and reactions can be complicated too. The best way to support a child is to give them a safe environment, allow them to be honest about their feelings, and encourage them to share their emotions and feelings around the loss.

If you are seeking professional support in how to effectively help your child through a loss, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. We can be reached at 780-288-8011 or info@healmyheart.ca.

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, and edited by Ashley Mielke, Owner and Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Photo credit: Thinkstock 

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