If you’ve lost someone recently and are looking at the holiday season with a distraught sense of abandonment, you are not alone. Holidays that you spent with your loved one in the past can bring on an acute sense of loss as you experience the holiday traditions without your loved one near.
You may feel like you are just going through the motions of celebrating this year. The hope and joy you usually experience may seem far away right now.
You may be wondering if hope or joy will ever return, or if you are destined to feel bereft and alone for the rest of your life. The good news is that the deepest and most difficult parts of grieving simply take time to move past.
The Good News about Grief
Your grieving may never be completely over, but it will ebb and flow like an ocean tide until one day you discover that you’ve gotten through a day without the sharp sadness that had been a daily stinging reminder behind your eyes and a disturbance in your guts. Your heart will once again feel the flutter of new hope.
In the meantime, feel the feels and be patient with yourself.
The Bad News About Grief
The bad news is that if you are still grieving, there are not many ways to make the pain go away faster. It is important to remember that there is a time in life to grieve. We all face these difficult days at some point during our lives.
The key to grieving well is to recognize your feelings, express them daily without judging yourself harshly, and try to find new hope in the daily smallnesses of life that hold your world together still, however thin these happy moments are right now.
Staying Busy Before Grief
Often, we stay busy with life and don’t think too much about how we feel. We may be busy with a career or kids or a relationship, a volunteer position, or favorite video games. Whatever we fill our time with, when we are not grieving, it is usually easy to decide what to do in a given day. Hope comes naturally most days as we move toward whatever goals and visions are on our minds and hearts.
Grief is a Season of Big Feels
When in a season of grief, the normal day to day things can seem overwhelming as we wallow in our pain. We can lose our core self in a chasm of not knowing what the point of life is. We don’t understand why things have happened the way they did. We may struggle endlessly with our spirituality or our sense of purpose. We may lash out at those we love because a part of us may blame them for our pain.
Other feelings that we may generally push aside with another activity to drown them out, such as anger, may manifest in a deep fear about your life overall. During grief, feelings can no longer sit quietly by while you live your life. Your feelings shout from within and demand an audience with you.
Grief is Also a Season of Nothingness
Even a lack of feeling can be part of grieving. We may feel numb and shocked by what has happened and hold our feelings at bay as long as we possibly can while we try to “get on with life”. Others may not understand why we won’t “grieve”.
Even if you are feeling numb, the silence itself is deafening and all-encompassing. This absence of feeling is also part of grief.
Express Your Feelings to Move Forward
A grief journey is a time to express emotion through writing, talking, singing, playing an instrument, drawing a picture or painting, taking those long contemplative walks in the woods and generally giving yourself the permission to just “be”.
During difficult times like holiday seasons, use these activities as starting points to find ways to express your feelings each day.
Journaling can be poetry or writing songs, a jot about life as you know it, a quote that you came up with watching the sun rise, something someone said yesterday that was meaningful, a leaf pressing, a scribble design you doodle while watching snow fall. It can be long winded pages of frustration at others in your life who seem not to care and why their lack of care bothers you or it can be a simple word on a blank page that describes your heart at this moment.
If you don’t have any ideas and find yourself staring at a blank page, look up emotional words online (try this free Wheel of Emotional Words) and consider which ones suit you this day. Write why you feel that way or what could be going on in your mind. Sometimes just getting our thoughts out on paper has a way of releasing them from our mind or helping us find a way to move into more hope.
You can also write down dreams as soon as you wake each morning before they fade away. Keep a notebook and pen on your bedside table to grab. After writing your dreams, recognize the feelings that you felt while in them. Write about the ways you may be feeling the same way in real life.
Listen to Music
We all have a type of music that just touches our soul in a way that we feel inspired or energized or even just “not alone”. Find your favorite type of music and spend some time just listening and watching nature or taking a drive. Let your mind wander and heal as you let go and let your feelings just be.
There are many playlists that others who were grieving have made to help you find the songs that mean the most to you. Check out this playlist on YouTube entitled, “Best Songs for Grief and Loss” if you need a starting point.
Whether you believe in God with a capital “G” or believe in karma or some other religious ideal such as reaching enlightenment, there is no doubt that prayer has benefits. Recent studies have shown that people who pray often feel relieved of their feelings of guilt or despair. Others report higher levels of hope or a stronger vision of the future.
Try writing prayers down in an email and sending it to a “Prayers” folder. Writing prayers down can be a way to help you stay more focused while praying.
Write Letters to or Go Visit the Deceased
Just because someone is gone from this world does not mean that you can’t still express your feelings to them. Your feelings still matter and if there are words you meant to say, say them now. Write them down or speak them to the windows of your house. Go to the gravesite or to a church. Go anywhere that means something to you when you think about the one you lost.
Express to them how you feel. Don’t hold back anger or frustration or pain. Holding onto these kinds of emotions can harm you. It is no worse to let them out than it is to feel them so go ahead and tell them how you feel.
Let them know if you miss them so much that you can’t see straight anymore. Whatever you feel toward the person who is gone, just express it and recognize those feelings as being part of your experience. It may not be comfortable, but it just may be cathartic for you.
Learn How to Say “No”
As you walk your own unique grief journey, you may need to put into place boundaries that help you get through the holidays.
If your spouse passed away, you may need your adult children around, but perhaps let them know that you need them to create the memories and events of the holiday season this year. Or let the family know that you want to only engage in short and low key get-togethers where there are no expectations for how long you need to stay at any one event.
Communicate Your Needs
It is crucial for you to communicate with those around you about your needs. Perhaps you want to go somewhere this year for a winter vacation and get away from the usual family holiday dinner with presents and a Christmas tree.
Whatever your heart needs to get through this season is what you need to do. Taking care of yourself and any children you may still have at home has to be a priority. It is ok for you to draw a line in the sand and say:
- “Not this year”
- “I am not ready for this type of gathering yet”
- “Please don’t include me this year. I hope you understand.”
- “I’m sorry. I’ve already made plans at home.” (even if plans are a bathtub & good book)
Stand Firm For Your Sanity
Whether or not others understand your position, this is not the time to let well meaning friends and loved ones push you around. For your sanity, do what you need to do during the special holidays this year. Make time for your big feelings and leave time to just “be” with no expectations.
Take the Time Now
This season of overwhelming grief will not last forever, but it will be made more difficult and possibly longer if you stuff your feelings deep down and refuse to address the emotional complexities of what you are facing. Take time for yourself this holiday season; for your feelings, for your rest, for meals you want to eat, for your ways to relax and recoup.
Give yourself time and eventually hope will once again begin to appear on your horizon.
At Renaissance Funeral Home, we often see the loss of loved ones affecting others deeply and profoundly, especially during the holiday season. We understand that you need help on many levels when a loss occurs in your family. We want to help make planning easier for you so that you can focus on your loved ones. Planning funerals or memorial services, picking a burial type or choosing cremation are all part of what we offer here.
If you or your loved ones need counseling to help walk through your grief journey, we want to point you in the right direction. We are here to discuss whatever is on your mind and be a resource for you to find whatever help you need as you struggle with your loss.