by Barbara Fane, LCSW, BCD
Did you think the worst was over? Maybe you suffered the loss of a loved one weeks or even months ago. The days have just begun to feel a little more normal. You finally managed to get the closet cleaned out, the clothes donated to charity. Friends have returned to their own lives and you’re Okay with that. You’re fixing your own casseroles and putting one less plate at the table without having to think first.You’re finding your way through the blur of grief.
And now here come the holidays, the ones that can’t just be ignored. The ones where all your loved ones are supposed to gather, just like last year, only there is that aching hole that gapes open again because the holidays just won’t be like last year. You’re still suffering from the loss of a loved one, how on earth are you going to get through this?
The brutal truth is, it won’t be without pain. There are, however, things you can do to help you get through this first holiday season:
- Don’t try to bury or evade your feelings, and don’t let anyone else pressure or guilt you into pretending nothing has happened. Of course you’ll feel sadness, but you may also be surprised by unexpectedly intense emotions like anger at what has happened, fear that you’ll fall apart, guilt that you didn’t manage to make every moment of your loved one’s life perfect. Feel them all, handle them as they come along and move on.
- Don’t hide from the holidays. You may be tempted to let your dread turn you into a recluse. There is simply no way to avoid all evidence of the holidays; if nothing else, your calendar will let you know they’re coming. If you face the holidays and your feelings about them, you’ll be much closer to regaining all aspects of your life.
- Take good care of yourself. Eat well, don’t drink to excess, take a break from the bustle and have a massage or an exercise class or a long hot bath. Grieving is hard work and you deserve the most nourishing lifestyle possible.
- Don’t be afraid to make changes. If you don’t feel you can manage hosting the traditional gathering, ask someone else to do so. If the socializing becomes overwhelming, simply skip some festivities; you can rejoin in the future as your grief eases.
- Recognize that you may not be the only one hurting. Your loved one was important to others and they may be having some of the same feelings that you are. Consider holding a pre-holiday gathering to discuss how you all want to celebrate. That meeting can also give you all a chance to honor the loved one, discuss memories, find out how you all are getting along, and offer support to one another. Many communities also hold a pre-holiday service for anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one in which stories are shared and strategies for the holidays discussed.
- Volunteer. Helping others during the holiday season will take your mind off your sadness and concern, remind you that others are struggling, and give you a sense of satisfaction as you make someone else’s holiday just a bit better.
- See a therapist. If you haven’t already, this is a good time to find a grief counselor skilled in helping people through the pain of loss. In a therapist’s office you can be angry, distressed, fearful, or heartbroken without feeling you need to be brave for the other person. The counselor may also have suggestions on how you can make your way through grief, during the holidays in particular.
- Process what you’re thinking. Write in a journal. Draw or paint. Meditate. Even talk to your loved one and explain how you’re feeling.
- Don’t despair. This may be the worst holiday season you experience. Next year may be better and the next year better yet. You will always remember your loved one, you may always feel a bit sad when you are reminded of the good times you had together, but you can feel joy again. Even though it may seem impossible right now, a time will come where you will laugh again and allow yourself to celebrate without guilt. You will look forward to the holidays.
BARBARA FANE, LCSW, BCD
THERAPY and COUNSELING SERVICES