For many people, this year will be the first holiday season you spend without your loved one(s). Known and unknown fears may shroud this time as you traverse the difficult terrain of grief through the Holidays. The expectation is that you embrace the celebratory spirit of the time, show up for family, work and friends in a convincing way that leaves them with no doubt that you are "fine", and you with the reassurance that your performance has confined their concern and attenuated unwanted attention. And yet, internally, your world may feel empty, numb and disconnected. The hypocrisy between the expectation of celebration and the reality of mourning may feel insurmountable. This may be your reality, one that leaves you feeling isolated. Grief emotions are intense in any season, however the Holidays magnify them.
So, what is a survivor to do? In our grief avoidant society, survivors often struggle with what to do in order to maintain a foothold in their daily routines of living and caring for loved ones. Yet grief is a reflective experience that calls on you not only to go inward, quiet the mind and be available to memory and connection with the one(s) who is no longer here physically, but also to ride the waves of unpredictable, often unbearable pain. This in not a time of doing but one of being, being in your fears and being in pain, allowing grief to run its powerful course through you. Grief, as much as you may resist, has its own agenda, you are, at most, the persistent back seat driver grasping at elusive control. Let it be, be supple and loose in the knees to allow yourself to move with your grief, give in to its demands and recover from its storms. Set the bar low superpeople, your time to fly, to decorate and shop, attend every party, cook, clean and entertain will come again but for now remain grounded in your internal experience. Receive and reach out. Ask for what is required and desired. Retreat when needed. Honor your loved one(s) by holding a sacred, spacious stillness within yourself for them to enter and for you to heal. For people like myself who tend to eye roll at vagueness and need a pragmatic push, here are some suggestions:
- Have a plan, it really doesn't matter what it is but having structure around the Holidays relieves stress.
- For some people maintaining the tradition of the Holidays offers comfort, for others breaking with tradition completely is a salve. There is no wrong way to go through grief or the Holidays, only your way. Listen to your intuition and follow the path of your hearts desire.
- As much as possible be with people you feel cared for and supported by.
- Say No to experiences or people who drain your limited energy.
- Set a place at the table for your loved one(s)
- Rehearse a toast to them that you are comfortable sharing with family and friends; or have a safe person speak for you.
- Say their name.
- Reach out to a safe person and share your feelings with them.
- Create an alter with their pictures and special memories/artifacts that allows you to feel their presence.
- Identify a place in the home/venue of an event that you can retreat to if you are exhausted or overwhelmed or emotionally triggered and need to cry in privacy.
- Light a candle in their honor.
- Spend time in nature, let your grief inform your creativity through writing, drawing, music.
- Monitor your inner voice and subdue judgement of self and others as much as possible.
- Reach out with compassion and service to others who are grieving this loss.
- Restrain your grief from lashing out at others, validating your grievances or as an excuse to behave hurtfully toward others or to self.
- Seek out grief counseling and/or group counseling to be heard and understood. Grief responds well to compassionate attention and time set aside for processing.
Above all else, know that you are not alone. Grief is a human experience, its tentacles reach into all parts of your life, the forms it takes are inexhaustible, it is the price we pay for having loved. It is a way to honor and express gratitude for the one who has gone before you and a path toward making meaning in your life. Grief is the great clarifier of what is serving you and what is ready to be shed. Grieving illicit great pain and in its wake, possibility, if you allow for it to flow through you. Be strong and have courage, like birth, the task of grieving will bring forth your new life.