"It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Christmas lights are twinkling, songs about love, joy, peace and good-will fill the airwaves with words like: "It’s the hap-happiest season of all.”
But, for someone who is grieving, the holidays can feel like salt in a wound. Emotions that are neatly stored away all year, come tumbling out of nowhere as memories of happier times are unearthed and it seems like everyone else is happy, loved and supported. For someone struggling with a loss, the holidays are anything but the happiest season of all.
If the idea of facing another Christmas seems unbearable, here are a few ideas that might help you cope with your seasonal grief.
1.Understand that you are grieving. Often times, grief and sadness sneaks up and hits us out of nowhere. We find ourselves asking, "What is wrong with me? Why am I so tired, so unmotivated, so impatient or so weepy?” We get upset with ourselves for struggling with emotions and feel we should be "over this” by now. We deny our feelings, which only prolongs them. Naming these powerful emotions often help us to disarm them.
2.Be patient with your feelings. Understand that you are going to struggle with feelings of sadness, despair, anger, loneliness or simply numbness. Give yourself permission to feel these feelings and don’t be impatient with yourself for not being happy and upbeat. Ask the people around you to understand what you are experiencing and to support you by not expecting more from you than you can deliver. Find something that comforts you: be it a ritual, prayers or other activities that leave you feeling encouraged.
3.Talk.Sharing your grief with someone you trust will help diminish it. As well as leaning on a close friend or family member, consider attending a grief support group or service. Talking with others going through the same thing will help you know you are not alone.
4.Create a new ritual. One of the reasons why we can feel sad during the holidays is because the loss of a loved one also creates the loss of a beloved ritual that left us feeling secure and loved. Whether it was the Christmas Eve ritual of having all the family open presents or the big Boxing Day meal – each time we face that date alone, our loss comes crashing to the surface. Rituals are important. Why not create a new one to look forward to? One widow I know began inviting every neighbour, widow or single friend she knew to a New Year’s Day feast. She kept Christmas as simple as possible, but the anticipation of this yearly fun event was just enough to get her passed her sadness. This new ritual gave her something to look forward to every year and new happy holiday memories.
5.Reach out to someone else. While not everyone grieving is ready to reach out to others, for many helping others is very therapeutic. Consider doing some kind of charity work or make a donation in the name of the person you are grieving. Visit people in a local nursing home, volunteer to help serve/cook a meal for needy families or simply invite some other people who are struggling to enjoy a meal. Sometimes, reaching out to others is enough to help pull us outside of ourselves and help us see the needs of others.
Wishing you a blessed Christmas and year ahead.
By: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser
Principles for Real Living:
I am responsible for my own attitude
My attitude affects my actions
I can not change others, but I can influence others
My emotions do not control my actions
Admitting my imperfections does not mean that I'm a failure
Love is the most powerful weapon for good in the world
Desperate Marriages by Gary Chapman, Northfield Publishing, Chicago 1998, 2008