Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Facing the Holidays with Grief

The reality of Grief is one that we really don't want to have to think about. But, it's there, staring us in the face and there is no way to escape it. Whether we are hurting ourselves or know of someone who is, we feel uncomfortable in pain and often don't have a clue what to do with it. I found this article to be helpful.

Facing the Holidays with Grief

Article by: Rosa
Posted from:

My heart goes out to those of you who would rather crawl into your bed, curl up into a little ball, and sleep until the holiday season is over. Holidays are not a time of joy for you — at least not this time around. Instead, you are facing them with this insurmountable grief. The holiday cheer doesn’t soothe the grief, but instead emphasizes it.

I have been there, more years than I care to recall, quite frankly — years, where the holidays were pretty much non-existent for me, drowned out by grief, anger, and sadness. For me, it was a hurting and broken family that just decided not to try anymore. All of us went our own separate ways, some permanently with unforgiving bitterness, others because we weren’t sure how to handle the wounds that existed and it was just easier to withdraw from the conflict completely. What was once a family, such as it was, was no more, and the holidays were deliberately called off on an indefinite basis.

I’ll never forget the pain and I’ll never forget the double shifts I pulled at work during those years, because what else was there to do but work and stay busy on a day, that for me, mocked all I had lost?

For some of you, it’s a similar pain this year. It’s a pain that comes from a family torn apart by unforgiveness and a lack of reconciliation. Some of you have a parent (or parents) who have just walked away without looking back, like I did, others have runaway children. Still others are still trying to get over the horror of the suicide that occurred earlier this year. Some are grieving the end of their marriage and some are living the nightmare of their spouse winning custody of the children with their manipulative lies in court.

Some enter this holiday season grieving death. The death may have been an unexpected devastation that came in the form of a car accident or heart attack or brain aneurysm. Maybe it was a death that was, in some ways, a relief because of the suffering your loved one experienced for the months leading up to it, but left a huge gaping hole nonetheless.

Maybe you are grieving the loss of your job or even the loss of your home this year. Your heart is broken because there is no money for food on the table, much less Christmas gifts for your children.

Perhaps the grief is coming hand in hand with your new home in a new state, far away from family and friends.

The grief may be there this year in that empty spot on the couch where the family dog used to sit, thumping his tail, while everyone opened presents.

I wish I could write an article with this magic formula to make this time be all better, free from pain — but I can’t. There is no step-by-step process I can take you through to ease the pain. Most everything I say will seem trite and cliché. There are no easy answers. The only thing I can offer is the following:

Allow yourself to grieve. You may think that for the sake of the kids or for public appearance you need to pretend all is well. You don’t. It’s ok to admit that you are struggling with sadness and even anger. Unfortunately, many people aren’t going to want to hear about it because it throws a damper on their own holiday cheer, but right now, it doesn’t have to be about making others happy at the cost of denying your own feelings (which, by the way, will make the grieving process take even longer in the long run).

Sure, you don’t have to attempt to make others as sad as you are, or punish them because they can’t grasp your grief, but you certainly don’t owe it to anyone to deny what you are going through, all for the sake of protecting their feelings.

As far as the kids, yes, they need the holidays to have some happiness to them, but chances are, if you’re grieving a loss, so are they. Your honesty about your emotions will allow them to be honest about their emotions, which will aid in their healing process.

During this time, get healthy amounts of sleep. I say “healthy” because we tend to sleep too much sometimes when grieving, and this can contribute to severe depression as much as not getting enough sleep. A “healthy” amount is what your body normally needs to operate on. For some it may be seven hours, for others it may be nine. I can’t prove this with any research articles, but personally, I think sleep helps our hearts heal and when we deprive ourselves of sleep, our hearts stay raw and tender.

Take care of your health by eating properly as well. Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine and sugar, as they will create false highs which you will eventually have to come off of. This will be hard to accomplish for those who are emotional eaters, but look at it as taking care of you, not as deprivation.

For those who are the opposite of emotional eaters, eating is a must. I know you aren’t hungry and you even feel nauseated at the mere thought of eating, but depleting your caloric intake adds to the negative feelings. As hard as it is, even toast with something high in protein like peanut butter or a high calorie protein shake has to be eaten regularly throughout your day to keep your physical (and thus your emotional) strength balanced.

As much as you can, get some form of exercise every day: a walk, a yoga session, or even a half hour of dynamic stretching. Keep the blood flowing and take deep cleansing breaths. This too, can aid in the emotional healing process because exercise will help release endorphins which can provide a sense of calm and well being.

Even if you aren’t a person who normally writes, journal, journal, journal! A journal doesn’t necessarily have to be writing. It can be paintings, it can be charcoal drawings, it can be magazine words and pictures cut out and pasted on paper. As exhausting and time consuming as it may sound, getting your thoughts and emotions out on paper, in whatever form, can help release intense grief.

Set aside time each day to have an intense time of grieving. If you are a Mama or have a job that keeps you busy, it’s easy to stuff your feelings in order to keep on with life, but those emotions need to be released somehow, someway. Some people like to set a timer of sorts, and just let go completely during that time. It might be punching a pillow while screaming out your grief or it may be laying in a bathtub sobbing. When the timer goes off the grief isn’t gone, but many times people will find the edge has been taken off so that they can keep going. (Note: this exercise can also be physically exhausting, so it is best done at the end of the day when you can go to bed a short time later).

Find a counselor, minister, or therapist to walk with you through this holiday season. Talking to someone can be an amazing source of strength to help you make it through this time, especially on days the sadness overwhelms you.

This year you may not feel like decorating for the holidays, though if you have children, I would encourage you to do so for their sake. If you don’t have children, then this may be a year you can skip the holiday decorations. The time will come, as it did for me, that though your loss is still there, you will find yourself decorating again.

Finally, as the holidays come to a close, give yourself the gift of vision and hope. Take a piece of paper and turn it horizontally. On the left-hand side, write where you are currently, including your emotions, your opinion on the holiday season, etc. Then, on the right-hand side, write down where you hope to be a year from now.

In the middle, plot your path of how you plan on moving from the left-hand side of the paper to the right-hand side. It might be, “Buy a grief workbook and work through it this coming year,” or “Go see a therapist for the next six months.” Or maybe it will be, “I’m going to take up painting,” or, “I’m going to take a trip to my favorite vacation spot.” The pathway from raw grief to healed sadness will be unique for each person.

In a year, the pain isn’t going to be gone — not at all. But the pain won’t be as incapacitating as it is now. The hole in your heart will still exist, and always will, but it will be surrounded by blessings that fill your heart.

Memories will still be there but they will carry with them a sacredness, not breath-catching pain. This year the holidays are painful and unbearable, but as someone who has come through the other side, Christmas will come to your heart again. It will always be different and it may always carry a dimension of sadness with it, but it will come back.


Lori said...

That was such a touching article! I had tears in my eyes. I could feel the writer's pain. I follow your blog and I just wanted to wish you a Happy Holiday and many blessings for a wonderful New Year!


Faye said...

Thanks Lori.

Dancing on the Mountain said...

This is a wonderful post on grief, and so true!