Well here it is again, the holiday season. Deck the Halls and lets be JOLLY.
How do we go about being jolly when we can hardly hold our heads up?
There isn’t a magic formula, surprise play, one size fits all for those of us who are grieving the loss of someone we love. The holidays serve as a modifier to the memories and sense of loss we feel every day. But there are some helpful tips.
1. Everyone grieves differently… Some of us become outwardly more emotional, others quiet and withdrawn. There is no right or wrong way, just your way.
2. Acknowledge that the holidays are coming. Often times as the holidays get closer we feel anxious and we can’t seem to understand why we are feeling so unsettled. This can change from year to year. The days leading up to the actual day can be more overwhelming than when the day arrives.
3. Traditions… This is a biggie for me. Do we keep the traditions the same, or do we change them to give them a new look, but saving the most cherished? Or do we do away with some or all of them, in search of finding new traditions?
4. Acknowledging our loved ones that have died in a way that continues their legacy like preparing a favorite dish, placing their stocking in same place or perhaps a differently location. Speaking of those stocking, something that you can do to continue their place in our hearts and families, is have members write a special memory or a specific feeling they are having this season, place it in the stocking. They can be read and shared or put into a special memory box that can become a keepsake and shared season after season. There is also the “empty chair “ …… what do we do with the chair or that special space where “they “ always sat. Talk about and acknowledge that feeling of emptiness. Honor that sacred space sharing the importance of the person who now will fill that cherished place. Or leave the chair empty. Place a picture of the person on the table to serve as visual memory. Again, communication is key, discuss these ideas with the entire family so no one person is caught off guide or feels left out.
5. Have realistic expectations. We all aspire to create the perfect holiday. Even before the loss of our loved ones we expect too much of ourselves. No one person can do it all. There is no shame in reaching out for support in preparing for the holidays. There is no weakness in accepting others kindness. If emotionally it is just too hard, contact a professional for guidance and support. Truly isn’t that the meaning of the season of giving?
6. Take care of yourself. Get as much sleep as you can, but not spending all your time there, find a healthy balance, keep your diet in balance as well. Eating healthy will help your body as well as your mind. Accept an invitation to share a meal with someone. The best part of any meal is having someone to share it with. Try to get some exercise. If the mall is too overwhelming try a quiet winter walk. A perfect time for reflection and some tears, which brings me to tears, there will be tears. They are our friends, not a sign of weakness.
7. Be choosy … surround yourself with people who understand you. Don’t feel you must graciously accept everyone’s option where you should be in your grief journey. Stand up for yourself. My response to… you need to move on, get over it, put it behind you, he is much better off… was “do you want to trade me places” usually that ended the discussion. Our grief is not theirs to manage.
8. If the holidays do become overwhelming to the place where you can no longer do your daily work, care for yourself and/or your family. You may be having a condition called “complicated grief”. If you are having any of the challenges mention above, contact your doctor or a professional counselor.
9. In the season of being grateful, the purity of light and hope, we need to give ourselves permission to live again, to laugh and seek joy. We must remember when we allow ourselves those precious emotions it doesn’t mean we love or miss them less. There is no balance between the amount of pain we feel and how much we miss them.
10. If you just can’t do it, it’s okay. It doesn’t have to stay the same, it can change from year to year. A person I once knew always said “there is always next year” in this case he was right.
Remember, that love doesn’t end when someone we love dies… They are always with us. Maybe in the lyrics of a song, in the form of touch stone (mine is a cardinal), a cool breeze, or a Christmas stocking. Their memory and legacy grows.
In the spirit of the season…..PeacePictured: Mike Jenkins (March 3, 1966 – May 5, 2011) & Marcia Jenkins, Faces of CTE, Brain Donation Family Relations Director