Does it ever feel like you’re standing ALONE in the cold while everyone else is enjoying the WARMTH and TOGETHERNESS of the holiday season? I’ll just cut to the chase: the holidays can really suck for people who are grieving. Many of the values, traditions, and messages associated with the holidays – warmth, comfort, gratitude, family, togetherness – can feel in direct conflict with a grieving person’s actual reality.
Maybe you’ve experienced a loss recently or long ago, and you are dreading the holidays and wishing you could skip them altogether?
You’re not alone.
Several months ago, I was working with a private grief coaching client who a few years prior had lost her son. She was devastated with the death of her son, had recently lost her job, and now was also on the brink of sabotaging her relationship with her long-time boyfriend. She wasn’t even sure that I could help her, but she had come to me as a last resort at the insistence of her boyfriend who had given her an ultimatum: either she got some help, or he was out.
Although their relationship had begun to suffer in recent months, he had been very supportive at first.
He would listen when she replayed and relived the painful memories of her son. He would give her the ‘space’ she needed and was present and attentive when she needed a ‘heart with ears’. He took the initiative to cook her and her daughter’s favorite foods. He accompanied her to doctor’s appointments, supported her job search, and helped her prepare for job interviews.
But then a few days after Thanksgiving, he showed up at the door with an 8-foot Christmas tree, saying that he wanted to ‘add some Christmas cheer’ to their household.
They got into a big argument that day and the Christmas tree ended up in the trash bin of an alley. He told her, “I can’t live like this anymore. You’re always crying, and everything I do for you seems like it’s for nothing. I’m trying to help, but all you want to do is stay stuck in your sadness. I don’t like what our life is becoming.” She confided in me that she didn’t like what their life was becoming either. It was so hard for her to say the words out loud, but she turned to me crying and said,
I can’t do this alone…I need help. I want to be present for my daughter and my boyfriend, but I’ve gone to counseling and coaching, and nothing works. Two years have gone by, and I still miss my son every day, especially during the holidays. Christmas was his favorite time of the year. I don’t know how I can live without him, but I know that I have to for my own sake, but more importantly, for my daughter.
Often grievers isolate themselves from their family and friends – the people that actually care about and love them, but who may not know how to help them move beyond the emotional pain of grief and loss.
This is why it is so important for us to find the right support to help us regain a sense of well-being after a loss.
Even if we have loving, patient, and understanding people by our side…we sometimes sabotage those relationships, because we are AFRAID or may NOT KNOW how to OPENLY COMMUNICATE our feelings. We can be so engulfed by the pain of our past that we allow our feelings to take complete control of our life.
Grief is about a broken heart, not a broken brain.
In order to move beyond loss, we need to dig deep and allow our feelings and emotions to come forth in an open and vulnerable way. Is this scary? Yes, it can be. Is it worth it? Absolutely, without a doubt! Recovering from a significant emotional loss is not an easy task, but YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Taking the actions that lead to recovery will require your attention, open-mindedness, willingness, and courage.
The Golden Rule of Grief: Grief is NORMAL and NATURAL, and every person’s grief experience is INDIVIDUAL and UNIQUE.
Holidays are clearly some of the roughest terrain we navigate after a loss, and the ways we handle them are as individual as we are. The most important thing is to be present and allow yourself to acknowledge the loss in whatever form the holidays do or don’t take. Facing the holidays is a part of the journey to recovery. They can be very sad, and sometimes we may catch ourselves doing okay, or we may even have a brief moment of joy.
You don’t have to be a victim of the pain or the past.
It is very natural to feel you may never enjoy the holidays again. They will certainly never be the same as they were. However, with the right help and support, most people are able to find meaning again in the traditions as a new form of the holiday spirit grows inside of them.
Even without grief, our friends and relatives often think they know how our holidays should look or what the family should and shouldn’t do. Now more than ever, be gentle with yourself. Don’t do more than you want, and don’t do anything that does not serve your soul and your recovery.
Do’s and Don’ts When Grieving During the Holidays:
- Do be gentle and patient with yourself – allow yourself to feel and acknowledge whatever feelings arise in you.
- Don’t allow yourself to feel pressured to do or say things just because that is what you believe is expected of you. Stay true to yourself and honor your feelings.
- Do allow time for your feelings to come forth and be intentional about experiencing those feelings at their full capacity.
- Don’t keep feelings bottled up. If you have 500 tears to cry don’t stop at 250.
- Do allow others to help.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all need help at certain times in our lives. It is not a weakness, it is actually a sign of strength that you are willing to face the pain in order to move beyond the loss.
One of my favorite analogies – called the “Broken Wrist” – really helps to paint a picture of the importance of acknowledging and addressing your grief.
Picture it: If you have a terrible fall and break your wrist, do you just go about your day and wait for the injury to heal on its own, or do you go to the emergency room right away and get your wrist checked? If you’re like most people, you would likely rush to the ER. Aside from being physically painful, a broken wrist can severely interfere with your daily routine and responsibilities, and perhaps even force you to take time off from doing certain things and engaging in particular activities.
Well, grief is an injury too – not a physical injury, but an emotional injury – and grief can also be severely painful and cause a negative interference and hindrance in our lives when not addressed.
Often times, we place a lot of importance in our physical health and end up neglecting our emotional health. Yet, neglecting our grief can have an even greater negative impact in our life and relationships, because unlike a serious physical injury, grief can get buried and hidden deep down inside us. We can go through our daily lives, and months or even years could go by without acknowledging our emotional pain.
However, unresolved grief eventually comes to the surface – whether it’s after 10 months, 10 years, or 40 years – our unresolved grief can and will wreak havoc in our lives if it is not addressed timely and properly.
The great news is that we are here to help you! At From Grieving to Healing we strongly advocate for you to address your grief as soon as possible. Similar to a serious physical injury, grief is an injury that requires immediate attention so that you can address your emotional pain and get on the right path to healing.