Holidays and Grief
By Deborah Schwing MFT, LPCC
Grief Counseling Services Manager, Hospice by the Bay
The holidays are often some of the most difficult times of the year for living with the loss of a loved one. Throughout the late fall and beginning of winter – weeks that comprise and lead up to the holidays – each day can be filled with a variety of memories and emotions.
It can be confusing when it seems like everyone is bustling about decking the halls with boughs of holly and you are so grief stricken you can barely get out of bed to face the day. The first and kindest thing we can do is to acknowledge what is real and true about how we’re feeling. We really miss our loved one and it truly hurts to contemplate the holidays without them.
The next thing we can do is consider how we’d like to remember, honor and perhaps celebrate our loved one at these special times. What were the special holiday rituals that you shared and enjoyed together? As you anticipate the weeks ahead, reflect on ways you can replicate some of the good feelings associated with those memories Whatever traditions you choose, be sure they evoke more of the feelings you want to feel more of – feelings of peace, joy, gratitude, hope, generosity, love, warmth, connection and possibility.
Even in the midst of feeling joyful, you can expect those real and true feelings of grief to arise from time to time, often without notice. Be prepared. Carry tissues. There will be tears. Tears of sadness and tears of joy. Tears of remembering gifts your loved one gave you that you absolutely loved. Tears of disappointment in receiving a gift from your loved one that completely missed the mark. We can have angry feelings towards a deceased loved one who was completely devoted to us and we can have loving feelings towards someone who repeatedly hurt us. It’s all normal. It’s all part of the mosaic of feelings we tidily call grief.
In addition to giving yourself permission and space to feel the natural sadness and wistfulness associated with these memories, it is also important to have a plan.
Planning may include reflecting on how you’d like to feel during this time and on how you might structure some aspects of your days to increase the likelihood of those feelings. For example, if you’d like to feel more light hearted, you might start to build into each morning of the holidays a practice of writing down or saying aloud five things you appreciate and five things you are looking forward to feeling that day.
Keep in mind coping with the holidays is a lateral, zigzag and/or wavy endeavor. You needn’t be at the mercy of your grief. You can observe it, acknowledge it, feel it, express it and move it through you. You can write it out, dance it out, sing it out or shout it out. The loving heart is malleable. It hurts, it heals, it expands. The holidays can be an opportunity to remember that above all – in the darkness of the season, we can tend to and nurture the light of love in our hearts for the living as well as for those we’ve lost.