It’s not always happy holidays.
With the holiday season upon us, it’s important to recognize this can be a hard time of year for those who are grieving.
Grief is love with no place to go. As grief expert, Alan Wolfelt shared, grief is both a necessity and a privilege. We experience grief because we have loved. It’s a challenging part of being human.
Grief is a messy and unpredictable process. It has no set course, and no certain end-date. It shows up in surprising ways. We may try and fake it through the holidays, but our feelings of grief and sadness may increase, leaking out all over the place.
Once meaningful traditions feel painful and only serve to remind us of who’s missing, amplifying feelings of sorrow. This is true for the holiday season, or any other significant days such as birthdays or anniversaries, when grief is involved.
We can feel more alone, and may want to avoid everything festive. Sadness deepens and the sense of isolation may increase. Friends become awkward, not knowing how to help. We may want to cancel the whole thing, and just survive the season. Just surviving is okay.
What to do? How can we support ourselves or others who are grieving at this time of year?
While there are no simple answers, there are some helpful things to do.
• Acknowledge feelings of grief and talk about them.
• Allow yourself to feel your emotions. They may be a mixed-bag, but feel them without judgment.
• Remember to breathe.
• Connect with understanding, supportive people who care.
• Let others know what you need and how they can support you.
• Set healthy boundaries. Avoid isolation but don’t over-schedule. It’s about balance.
• Grief can be exhausting. Respect the limits of your body and mind, lower your expectations of what you’re able to do.
• We can’t shame or “should” ourselves out of our grief. Be compassionate and understanding with yourself.
• Plan ahead. Discuss plans with others and let them know of changes to what’s happening.
• Talk about the person who has died. Don’t be afraid to mention their name.
• Treasure precious memories and share them with family and trusted friends.
• Create new traditions. Decide which traditions you want to change and which ones you want to keep.
• Find a way to honour your memories.
• Take an inventory of the good and positive things in your life.
• Extend kindness to others. It makes us feel better.
• Connect with your faith and express it.
• It’s okay to enjoy the season, and to celebrate.
• Seek professional help.
Everyone grieves differently, and sharing your experience of grief with those close to you creates connections. Remember, grief has many different faces and may not just present as an emotion of sadness. Grief may show up as remoteness, guilt, anxiety, irritability, and anger, it affects our ability to think and remember.
When someone we love is grieving, it’s important we don’t take their withdrawal, or need to change traditions, personally. They’re just trying to get through. Offering understanding support, and encouraging them to participate at the level of their own comfort is helpful.
Grief is uncomfortable and we can feel powerless to help, so we may want to avoid the topic all together. All of the platitudes in the world won’t help and often add insult to injury. There are no phrases we can use to magically remove their pain.
Check in with friends who are grieving. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they’re doing. Avoiding the topic for fear of reminding them of their loss is like pretending there’s no elephant in the room. Accepting their feelings, and just listening to them and validating their feelings is so important.
The biggest gift we have to offer is our caring, non-judgmental presence. I choose to remember grief specialist, Clair Jantzen’s advice: Just show up, shut up, and listen. See what they need, and then do that.
My heart is around all who are grieving as we enter this holiday season.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.