Holidays and Grief

Holidays have always been a torturous time for us grievers. A time of happiness and family get-togethers becomes a time of sadness, loneliness and feelings of despair for the griever.  There is also an added amount of pressure from well-meaning family and friends to “be happy” or it’s time to “move on” during this time of year.

This is the time of year that grievers often take to keeping to themselves. Not being too social. Almost to the point of being recluse. That happens in part because one it’s easier than dealing with the “well-meaning” family and friends who think they are helping and two because showing your pain and grief somehow makes it more real. It becomes your private friend. The one you don’t want to introduce anymore to anyone.

It’s hard to for a griever to imagine that their broken heart can mend or that love will ever feel the same again. But love doesn’t end when your loved one dies. The love left in your heart is still there. It’s the emptiness, the void left from their absence that makes your heart hurt. But the love – always will it be there to hold your heart together.

On one hand the holiday season brings beautiful decorations and lights. Wonder singing and praises to our God and then there are the lonely moments when the pain of your loss overwhelms you and all those sweet memories that you hold so dear to your heart remind you that your loved one is not there again to enjoy the holidays with you. And despite the good intentions of others, no one can take away the hurt you feel. All we can do is find ways to cope with the holidays.

Healing through the holidays can happen, but only if you allow yourself to experience the season. Feel the goodness of the season. See the beauty of the season. For Christians it is Jesus’ birth that we truly celebrate. All the other “holiday stuff” is just that – stuff. If you get your mind on the true meaning of why we celebrate Christmas – you can truly move beyond the pain of the holidays.

Don’t be afraid to talk about how you feel or to express your feelings of grief. Pain doesn’t go away on its own. It must be given a voice, whether it be vocal or written expression. I’ve always been a big fan of journaling as I can honestly say it has allowed me the vision to see my journey laid out on paper to see the progression from early grief to the grief I have today, three years later.

When you are experiencing an increase in grieving, it can make you more tired, physically and mentally. So take the time you need to slow down and get the rest you deserve. Don’t try to keep up with everyone else. Learn to say no when you need a break. But also say yes when you need to have someone around to talk with.

My biggest lesson that I’ve struggled with from the get go has been learning to say no. Stretching myself beyond my limits. I do it because it keeps me busy and then when I’m busy I don’t think about how painful I feel. It’s a cover up. It actually can increase your grief because it is increasing your stress. Stress on the body lowers your ability to cope.

Surround yourself with people who understand that the holidays can be difficult for you. That holidays increase your awareness and sense of loss – so much so – that you may avoid holiday activities. Spending time with people who understand and that allow you to talk openly about your feelings is one of the most important gifts a family member or friend can give a griever at the holidays.

I know personally for me it’s hard to find people who want to hear my story or to hear about Brittany. But it’s crucial to the healing process to include them, the memories of them in the conversations without having someone roll their eyes at you or change the subject all because it’s too uncomfortable for the. It’s not their loss – it’s not their pain – it’s not their life. It’s your life, your pain, your loss and it has to be acknowledged for as long as you need.

A plan for anticipated moments where you may feel overwhelmed by a thought or memory should be in place so if it does happen you can leave the room or take a break without feeling embarrassed.

The most important part – is our memories of our loved ones are legacies that exist. They are a part of who we are and apart of who they were in our lives. Holidays make us remember these times more than any other time of the year. Go with it. Let it come. Journal it. Embrace it. Don’t ignore it. I have found over the past 3 years that the memories now bring smiles more than tears. But the tears still do come. Your memories are the love you had with that person and will forever remain in your heart. No one – No one can take that from you.

Create new memories by spending time with people. Try not to isolate yourself thinking you can avoid the holiday season. You can’t and it’s truly not good for you. I try to spend time with friends, family and other people to create a new definition of holiday for me. But with that in mind, these people I spend time with know my story and know that my story is what makes me who I am today.

Most of all love yourself during the holidays. Express yourself by giving and receiving love from others and from God. Surround yourself with loving people and you’ll see that your journey through the holidays will take on a new and different light. But always with a distant glow that remains in your heart from the love and joy that came from having loved someone so much.

Until next time

M

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Coping with special occasions

Chapter 7 from Grieving Forward – Embracing Life Beyond Loss by Susan Duke

I’m actually passing some of the material in this chapter as I’ve visited the topic of gifts many times before. Decided I’d review something I believe is so very important for a grieving parent. A topic Duke talks about mid way through this chapter – dealing with special occasions. I think it continues to be a very source of anxiety for me even after nearly five years since Brittany’s death. The longing for things to be as they were and knowing they cannot be is often so painful that there have been times I just wanted to sleep through them.

I’m about to enter what I call the dark days again…..they just keep returning each each around September and stay until New Years. It’s a time of great memories and great heartache. Some days the memories are so profound and magical that I find myself so thankful I can recall them. Then there are days when the memories are so hard to handle. Duke relates so well to this issue that she states “Even years after our loss, despite how much healing has occurred in our lives, certain events often make us wish we could cancel these dates from the rest of our lives.” I too feel that way – still today.

There are things we can do to help ourselves and others during these times and I would encourage you all to be mindful that the holidays are the worst time for those who have lost loved ones. It can be a lonely time. And it can remain that way for a very long time.

While attending Grace Community Church in Indianapolis, I enjoyed the Remembrance Service the church put on each fall to help remember those loved ones that had gone on to Heaven before us. It was a bonding experience with those, like me, who had to deal with the on-going pain of the upcoming holiday season. I will  miss that this year. Now I find myself having to find another way to release that memory, that pain for it overshadows everything I do during the holidays.

Making new memories has been hard for me, moving back to Indy helped me reconnect with family that I had lost touch with over the many years of being away. Now I find myself in a new city, facing this holiday with an uncertain plan. I must however have a plan. It’s so important for me to ensure my ability to make new memories, while respecting my past life with Brittany. It’s a delicate balance and one that I can’t afford to be without.

It is so important to bring a season of celebration and love from the one who has been lost because it marks the blessing that enriched your life for a different season in your life. Creating a sense of celebration and new traditions allows you to incorporate the blessings of the old life with the blessings of the new life.

Some of the traditions I have today are from the great woman who raised me. I choose to light a candle for Brittany on her birthday. I eat macaroni and cheese because it was her favorite food. I wear the dog tags that were made by her friends for her Celebration of Life for the month of October and her “Brittany” bracelet for the month of November, her birth month. For Christmas I hang a special ornament or two just in memory of Brittany.

It’s all bittersweet sometimes and I have to allow the tears to fall. But I would never, ever trade one day of those memories of my life with her. It’s the days without her that are at some times unbearable, but it’s those moments with her wonderful smile or her funny wit that I am reminded of a beautiful spirit that surrounds me everyday and that spirit is my daughter.

until next time

m