Coping with Loss During the Holidays
By Janet Klein, Published on December 6, 2017
We all feel the press of cultural, family and personal expectations whether we’ve had a loss or not. The following words and phrases express those expectations:
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Joy, Feasting, Celebration, Festivity, Good Cheer
This clashes with what a grieving person is feeling inside:
Loss, loneliness, emptiness, yearning, anger, guilt, depression
We yearn for holidays to be the same as they once were. However, when we’re grieving, the holidays remind us of what we have lost.
It’s an exceptionally difficult time for people who have lost a loved one within the months prior to the holidays. For others it may be difficult because of a death anniversary during this season, families far away, or a rupture of some kind such as divorce, estrangement, medical illness, etc.
There’s so much pressure to feel happy and festive—some comes from within but also from usually well-intentioned friends and family members who expect traditions to continue despite the loss. You don’t want to disappoint people but may feel guilt if you don’t participate. It’s common for grieving people to withdraw to avoid the pressure. It’s also common for family and well meaning others to get concerned and urge you to maintain the activities of the season in a misguided attempt to cheer you up.
If there’s one symptom of grief, it’s exhaustion. Unconsciously a lot of energy is going into that grieving whether grief is new or your loss happened a while ago. Holidays are packed with activity – parties, cooking, shopping, holiday cards, etc. Make time for rest.
Give yourself permission. It’s not yes or no. You can make adjustments. Do certain things and not others. What you do this year to cope can be different from last year or next year.
Maybe skip the whole thing: It is actually okay if you decide to skip your traditional celebrations and instead go on a trip, go to a yoga or spiritual retreat, don’t send cards this year, etc. Give yourself permission to do what feels right.
Parties: If the party is called for 7 o’clock and goes to 10, call the host and let him or her know that you’ll come but only for a short time. You can explain or not. You can go or not.
Shopping: Use the Internet instead of the facing hassle of driving, parking and crowds. Keep a list with you so when you have energy you can go and do it in small pieces.
It’s okay to feel festive: When you feel like you WANT to participate in something festive, allow yourself to do it without guilt. Pain and happiness can live in the same house.
Plan. Think about what will make the holiday meaningful, what you have energy for and plan for how to make that happen. Don’t ad lib this one.
Communicate. Sit down with family and discuss what feels right and what is possible this year. How will you recognize the absence of a loved one.
Remember. For many people memorializing the loss can be healing. Tree lighting, candle lighting, saying the loved one’s name is very helpful. Make time for stories of the loved one when you’re keenly aware of their absence.
Please contact Rev. Catie or any member of the Pastoral Care Team if you’d like to discuss this or could use some extra support. The next Grief and Loss Group meets on Sunday, December 17th from 12-1:30 in the Keil Classroom, and is led by Andrea Goldberg. All are welcome.