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