Grieving During the Holidays
December 2010
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GrievingGrief at the loss of a loved one is an emotionally painful and debilitating condition at any time of the year, as the mind struggles to make sense out of what may seem like the destruction of our internal compass. Time may eventually help heal our wounds, but meanwhile, life goes on as usual for the rest of the world, and that includes holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah and New Year’s are the biggest and usually most challenging of all to endure, let alone enjoy.

It is possible to get through the holidays on your own terms. Rather than avoiding the feelings of grief, lean into them, because it is not the grief you want to avoid, but the pain. Grief is the pathway out of the pain of internal feelings, and mourning is its external expression.

Have a strategy

Have a Plan A and Plan B – Plan A is where you go for the Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinner with family and friends. Then, if it doesn’t feel right, have your plan B ready: maybe a movie you and your loved one enjoyed together or a photo album to look through or a special place you went to together. Many people find that when they have Plan B in place, just knowing it is there is enough.

You can even cancel the holiday altogether. If you find yourself just going through the motions and feeling nothing, cancel them. Take a year off. The same holidays will come around again and your family and friends will understand. Most of all, do not feel guilty about “spoiling” anyone else’s merriment. Times of crisis like these can often serve to bring the true message of the holiday home to everyone.

Externalize your loss

Just as there are rituals that have served mankind throughout the ages, we can create our own personal rites to see us past our grief.

--Dedicate a prayer at the holiday  dinner to them.
--Light a candle.
--Chat or create an online tribute to their memory.
--Share a favorite shared story.
--Ask others to relate a funny  anecdote.
--Remember them in prayer at your place of worship.

For some, staying involved with the holidays is a symbol of continuing life. Let the holiday routine provide a framework for surviving these tough times. Try experiencing the holidays in a new way. Grief has a unique way of giving us the permission to really evaluate what parts of the holidays we enjoy and what parts we don’t.

There is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays in grief. You have to decide what is right for you and do it. You have every right to change your mind, even more than once. Friends and family members may not have a clue how to help you through the holidays and neither may you.

It is very natural to feel like you may never enjoy the holidays again. It is true that they never will be the same as they were, but in time, most people are able to find meaning again in the traditions as a new form of the holiday spirit grows inside of them. Even without grief, our friends and relatives often have strong opinions about how our holidays should look and what we should and shouldn’t do.

Grieving 101

DO be gentle with yourself and protect yourself.
DON’T do more than you want to, or anything that does not serve your soul.
DO allow time for feelings to express themselves.
DON’T keep feelings bottled up. If you have 500 tears to cry, don’t stop at 250.
DO allow others to help. We all need help at times in our lives.
DON’T ask if you can help a friend in grief. Just help.
DO pay extra attention to the children in grief.

These holidays are clearly some of the roughest terrain we can navigate after a loss. The ways we deal with them are as individual as we are. These holidays are a normal part of the journey of life, to be felt fully and completely. Holidays can be sad, but we may catch ourselves doing alright, and even experience laughter. There are all kinds of sadness, but grief is a rite of passage.

David Kessler is the author of Visions, Trips and Crowded Rooms: Who and What You See Before You Die and On Grief and Grieving with Elisabeth Kübler Ross. For more info visit www.Grief.com.