Just show up and shut up

It’s not always Happy Holidays.

The holiday season can be a hard time for those experiencing grief.

Once meaningful traditions can 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 when grief is involved.

We can feel more alone, and we may want to avoid everything festive. Sadness deepens and the sense of isolation may increase. We may want to cancel the whole thing, and just survive the season. Just surviving is okay.

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 leak out all over the place.

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 it.
  • 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.
  • Express your needs; let others know what they are.
  • Set healthy boundaries; avoid isolating, but also 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.
  • Be compassionate and understanding with yourself. We can’t shame or’ should’ ourselves out of our grief.
  • 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 OK 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
  • Anger.

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 the platitudes in the world won’t help. 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 this holiday season.


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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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