I would like to think that from the anguish of all the pain grief dumps on us it would move us to a place where we would only know the pure illumination of life. The suffering would elevate us to a better understanding of others as well as ourselves.
I do think that happens yet there are those other times it is hard to get out from behind the eight ball and simply get through the day. The holidays challenge us that way. Under normal circumstances it is an overpowering task to get through each day and then you get sprinkled with the wide holed saltshaker of stress. Mix in the high expectations of the season and you now have a real hullabaloo to work through. Many people ask the same question every holiday season. How can I possibly make it through all these holiday stresses when I am so desperately missing the one I love?
In approaching the holidays there are many issues to think about such as decision making, dealing with the sadness of the blues, communicating with others and most importantly giving yourself what you need. Most of us are programmed to be more concerned with the pressure from others and making everyone happy rather than putting yourself first. Think about this. What good does that do if you are lying your way through times that are based on sacred events? Sort of ironic isn’t it? Lying doesn’t help you make it through the holidays. All it does is allow people to stay in their comfort zone while you are getting more miserable by the minute. Would you want people who are close to you to lead you in a direction that was untrue to themselves? I don’t think so. I think you would want to know how they were really feeling.
It is impossible to avoid the impact of the season. One thing you can do is to understand there is going to be pain. Painful times filled with aching memories for the one you love but also tears of joy from many of those same memories. Instead of trying to avoid or hide from the holidays, try to be aware of and become adept at communicating your feelings. Then you can snail pace your way and before you know it the holidays will have come and gone.
It is most important to plan ahead. If you do nothing else, plan. Let your family and friends know up front what is acceptable to you and what is not. Know what is negotiable for you. Do not be forced into doing something you do not want to do. Before you go to a party or get together, think about how you are going to feel and how you are going to handle it. It has occurred to me on many occasions that the well-intentioned friend is likened to a run away heat-seeking missile. They are zoned in on you and domineering you down a path of confusion and displeasure. Without speaking up, that person really doesn’t know that what they are doing is causing more stress. Communicating how you feel and how things affect you is important and necessary. Give yourself a break. It is common to one minute feel like you are up to an event or a gathering and then the next hour you can’t open your front door to exit the house. Let people know that as long as they don’t mind you changing your mind at the last minute, then you can give them an answer. If someone is putting pressure on you then you may have to beg off completely. And that is OK.
Take charge of the situation when possible. Once again this comes along with planning. If you feel you can not have the same type of celebration as you had before your loss, state your thoughts and plan for what will help you. It is your grief and it is up to you to determine what you can and can not do. If you turn to others and communicate your feelings, you may be surprised at the support you will receive.
At times we find ourselves thunderstruck and dismayed with friends and relatives who think they are saying and doing the right things. Here are some things you can do.
- Keep a log of the decisions that come up in your life. Do like Ben Franklin and make a list of the pros and the cons for each decision. Also prioritize and determine if there are any things you can delegate.
- Imagine your decisions will affect no one but you. If you isolate the decision to that level it will make it easier to understand directly the impact the decision will have on your life.
- Realize that to choose something, you are usually giving up something. So decide which would you least mind sacrificing?
- Don’t second guess. Once you have made up your mind become committed to yourself and the decision.
- Hold on to your wallet. Sometimes grief can play havoc with the purse strings. People will spend more in times of depression so be careful. It is satisfactory to give IOU’s to people and you can shop under better circumstances. If shopping is overwhelming, try using catalogues or shop during off hours.
There are so many expectations at the holidays. Many times everyone expects for the celebrations to be the same as they were before a death entered their family circle. Sometimes you are up against the mighty “we have always done it this way” and then that statement is usually followed with “and you should be doing……”. Oh, the dreaded “shoulds”. You also have your well wishers that believe the deceased should never be mentioned or remembered. What happens is the well wishers don’t know how to handle it and are afraid of seeing tears so they do what comes natural, they avoid it all together. Then you have the good-natured friends that want to get you out more. If only you would go out, you would have a great time they tell you. That might be true but it is up to you when the appropriate time may be. If you are having difficulty making it through the week or the day, you may even change your mind tons of times before ever heading out the door to an event. These people need to be told your honest feelings.
Sometimes you have to put your foot down on their good intentions. One of my biggest pet peeves in being a grieving person and working with grieving people is when someone decides they know how to walk in your shoes better than you do and lets you know it is time to get “on with it”. They have placed a time limit on the grief and it is more than they are willing to handle so you need to just snap out of it. This person doesn’t have a clue as to how they are coming across to you. If they did they wouldn’t do it. They are really trying to help but they will only know how to truly help you when you tell them. I had many people tell me they are afraid to cry for fear they will never stop. One reason we are afraid to let it all out is there is always someone who wants to rescue you from the crying. They want you to shut up and dry up the tear ducts. Once again they think they are helping but in reality all they are doing is stifling you by rescuing you. It is your grief and you have the right to say how you feel and if you want to cry let them know it is helping you and to allow you have your time to cry your tears of love, anger, fear and memories.
Through the holidays make sure you do these things for yourself.
Take time for yourself. Don’t over burden yourself with too many chores. Take time to plan and time to prepare for the day.
Rest. Practice relaxation techniques to help the stress level. Trying to weave your grief into your life is difficult and a formidable task. You need rest to help you make it though tough times. Emotionally, physically and psychologically, the holidays are draining. You need your strength.
Shield yourself. Protect yourself from events and gatherings that are too much to handle. When asked to a gathering, ask who will be there and what they will be doing. If they are going to watching a movie that would be painful for you, you need to know before accepting the invitation.
Back sliding. Allow yourself to back slide. You can’t always be making headway. Sometimes grief comes in waves. One week you feel like you are doing great and then the next you feel like you did when the loss first happened. Give yourself a break and don’t expect too much from yourself. It takes time and backsliding is part of working your way through your grief.
Goals. Thinking about goals shows you are healing. Set small goals just for a day and then move on to setting a goal for next week and then next month. Goals are avenues of hope for tomorrow.
Small delights. Take pleasure in the small delights of the day as often as you can. Laughter is a wonderful delight. Remembering a wonderful time with your loved may bring tears and laughter at the same time as well as warm your heart.
What can you advise some of your well intentioned family and friends as to how to help you? Tell them to simply be there. If you want to talk, let them know. Maybe you would just like them to watch TV with you or read. I love it when someone reads out loud to me. I guess it brings back the security of being a little girl and being safe and cozy. Ask that they be nonjudgmental towards you. Everyone experiences grief differently. There aren’t any two individuals the exact same. There aren’t any families the exact same. Life circumstances and individual relationships are never the exact same so how can a person’s grief be the same as someone else’s? It can’t. Let them know you are doing the best you can and there is no right or wrong way to get through your grief. If you need to cry ask them not to rescue you from it but to be a support beam for you. Ask them to let you know if they are getting too uncomfortable with your grief. Talk it out. Let them know they can not make the grief all better. It isn’t a booboo that can be kissed away. It is a life-changing event filled with pain and confusion. It splinters you and by confronting your grief you have to learn to weave it into your life so you can be whole again. That takes time, patience, understanding and love. Finally, ask them to listen. To listen over and over again to what you want to talk about. Many people want to talk often about the last hours of a person’s life or the way things happened. It is therapeutic to talk it out and to know someone is listening and not judging. One request I have heard more than any other about what grieving people want is for someone to listen.
Life forever changed the moment you lost someone you love. It dominoed into all the other areas of your life and into the dynamics of your circle of family and friends. Talk with them about creating new traditions and take time to remember your memories.
There is a gift in grief. Grief is the school to understanding worldwide compassion. In a world where people take two steps back to witnessing another person’s pain, the grief you experience allows you to be one that will take two steps forward to give understanding and sympathy to another. As you go into this holiday season do be gentle with yourself. Search out the minor miracles of each day and count your blessings. Remember to remember the gift of time you did have with your loved one. Remember to remember the good times, the sad times, and the times that bonded you together in your love. Last but not least, do something for someone else in memory of the ones who no longer walk the physical path with you but will forever be in your hearts.
Copyright Sherry Russell 2003
Updated: December 24, 2014