The holiday season can be pretty stressful for most of us - there are high expectations for gift-giving, visiting folks we may not see that often, travel headaches....
But the holidays can also bring up painful memories of a loved one (or not-so-loved one) who has passed away. The smell of cookies or the turkey, gathering around the tree or lighting the menorah, singing holiday songs of your faith - all can trigger strong emotions about those who are no longer there to share these family times. So I would like to offer some tips for better coping with painful situations, and how to take care of yourself and your loved ones who may be suffering, too.
Listen to Your Emotional Truth - the first holiday after a death is often the hardest - so it is with birthdays and anniversaries. Don't let anyone rob you of the right to feel what you feel and express those feelings. That is what will help you heal, rather than keeping your emotions locked away. Even if a loss is 20 years old, holidays can cause feelings to be heightened. If you need to express your hurt, do.
Balance Your Social Time - be aware that you may need some special time to yourself to fully feel your emotions, but you want to avoid isolation. Likewise, distracting yourself with too much busy work may push aside emotions that are wanting to be expressed. Balancing the need for both busy time and alone time will allow your heart to have both privacy and expression.
Be Open to Changing Holiday Traditions - an open discussion ahead of time about which traditions to keep, and what new ones you wish to start, can keep folks from feeling startled when strong emotions are triggered. Be willing to leave past ones aside and create things that reflect the changes in your family - and also stay flexible if someone is caught off guard and feels uncomfortable.
Surround Yourself with Loving, Supportive Friends and Relatives - keep the people close to you who are going to be understanding of what you are feeling, and who give you space to express yourself, be yourself and listen. Feeling like you are heard and honored is very important to your grieving process and will help ease the stress. If someone starts to "Should" you about what to do or not to do, it may be best to disregard their comments.
Talk About the Person Who Died - this person is still part of your family or circle of friends - honoring them and keeping their memory alive will also help you process the feelings associated with their death. Whether it is stories or jokes or pictures, celebrating them gives them new life.
Take Excellent Care of Yourself - it may seem odd to remind you to eat during the holidays - we all usually do much too much of that. Again, balance is the key - overeating, starving, getting drunk or staying in bed for hours, skipping your medications - all of these will add to your emotional stress. Lots of water, rest and remembering to exercise or take a walk will all help keep you balanced, so you don't have an unhappy body occupying your already wound up psyche. You deserve some Self-Care.
There is, of course, another side to all this. I have found that Big Family Events (holidays,
weddings, funerals, graduations, etc.) can bring out the best in some folks, and the worst in others. Thoughtless things can be said, fueled by alcohol and uncomfortable situations, and these can stain a relationship for a very long time. If you find yourself in the midst of one of those Awkward Moments, you can excuse yourself, change the subject, offer to do some dishes, take aside a trusted confidante for a chat.... these moments do melt away, if the person causing them finds him/herself in the minority. Feeding into arguments will only exacerbate the matter.
Finally, if the person who passed was difficult or left a painful and challenging legacy, the emotional knots that are wrapped around the holidays may seem even more complicated. You may experience relief that someone who used to be disruptive is no longer present. Calmly talking about how you feel, without letting the discussion devolve into personal attacks, will help you share these tricky layered feelings. Feeling guilt, mixed with anger and release, is pretty normal. Admitting that this person caused havoc and sharing your experiences can unite a family struggling with all these feelings.
A final thought - if you know someone for whom this time of year is painful and they are alone, look in on them. Don't forget the elderly aunt or neighbor who no longer has a spouse or children to share their holidays. Go visit, make them a meal, or invite them over to share with your family. Being isolated can magnify one's feelings of hopelessness. Let them know they are loved and not forgotten.
Allowing yourself to feel ALL your emotions is what creates healing. So honor yourself and the path of grieving. As always, if I can be of service in regards to any of this, please reach out to me.
Wishing you and yours a Healthy & Happy Holiday Season!
If you would like to speak to me personally about the above subject or any topic surrounding Grief, Loss, coaching or healing, click here to set aside a personal Free ½ Hour Empowerment Call. You are not alone.
Claire M. Schwartz
Leading You Back into the Light after Loss