Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year – those good old familiar and welcome sayings may not be as welcome to those of us who have suffered the loss of a loved one this year. Everything is different. Every single thing. Colors are duller, food tastes bland, drinks are not quite as refreshing. What was a typical time of joy and spiritual rejuvenation may now seem dull and dreary and rejuvenation has been replaced with despair.
If you identify with some of these things, take heart – you are not alone. These are not abnormal ways to feel after suffering a devastating loss. It’s important to recognize what and how you are feeling. Let’s face it, you really can’t help it. You may be able to distract it for short periods of time, but it doesn’t really go away. With that, here are a few tips to consider this holiday season. I hope you find them helpful in managing your grief.
PLAN AHEAD: Bereaved individuals who experience the most difficulty with the holiday season are those who have given little thought to the challenges they will encounter. Consider ahead of time what may be expected of you both socially and emotionally, as well as your own preferences.
ACCEPT YOUR LIMITATIONS: Grief consumes most of your available energy no matter what the season. The holidays place additional demands on your time and emotions. Plan to lower your expectations to accommodate current needs.
MAKE CHANGES: Your circumstances have changed. Expect to make necessary alterations in holiday plans to accommodate those changes. Consider changing your surroundings, rituals, and/or traditions to diminish stress. Serve notice to family and friends that this year things may be somewhat different.
TRIM DOWN TO ESSENTIALS: Limit social and family commitments to suit your available energy. Re-evaluate priorities and forego unnecessary activities and obligations.
ASK FOR AND ACCEPT HELP: Accept offers for assistance with holiday activities – shopping, decorating, cleaning, cooking, etc. Chances are loved ones are looking for ways to lessen your burden at this time of the year. Allow those who care about you to offer their support in concrete ways.
INFORM OTHERS OF YOUR NEEDS: Give family and friends the tools they need to help you through the holidays. Be specific with them about your preferences and desires, and keep them up-to-date when those needs change.
BUILD IN FLEXIBILITY: Learn to “play it by ear.” There is no concrete formula for learning to deal with loss. You are the foremost authority on what is best for you and your needs may legitimately change from day-to-day. Accept the fluctuations that must occur when walking in unknown territory, and learn to take each moment as it comes.
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION “TO BE:” Allow breathing space and expect fluctuation in mood and perspective. The bereaved work overtime. Not only is life more complicated, but all energy is siphoned into mental and emotional resolution. Grieving is nature’s way of healing the mind and heart from the greatest injury of all. Allow yourself the privilege of limping till your wounds have healed and you can learn to run again.