Handling Grief on Holidays and Special Occasions

“The challenge of the firestorm is to accept its presence. The devastation is real. You cannot deny it – not for very long.”. ~ Susan J. Zonnerbelt-Smeenge & Robert C. DeVries.

Handling Grief During the Holidays

Whether it’s the death of a loved one, the first year of a divorce, or a loved one who will be away from you this holiday season, grief and loss are bitter and painful companions.

Some bereaved people may actually experience the emotions of “first” holidays (or other special days) during the second or subsequent years of their grief because of their initial shock, numbness or tendency to deflect their grief during the first year following the death or loss.

Holidays are, for most people, special times of the year. They come with the regularity of the calendar. We look forward to them wanting to make each on special and significant. They typically are times away from the pressure of daily work, times for families and friends to gather together, times for reflection and celebration. These special days (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc) tend to raise us above the humdrum of life in order to renew and be revived. But the holidays will be different for those who will be grieving this year. Grief has likely ripped from you the uncompromised joy and celebration. A firestorm of chaos has hit!

So who, or what are you grieving this holiday season? Is it your spouse, your life’s partner? This holiday season can be the time for you to name the pain, to celebrate the memory, and to search the landscape for signs of new life.

Perhaps this year you grieve the death of your parent. Or maybe the death of a sibling – a comrade in blood and upbringing. Some of you may even be grieving the loss of a child – many say, this is the most painful death to grieve, especially over the holidays. Some of you may also be grieving the death of the family you knew because of marital separation or divorce. With all of these “grieving’s”) the holidays force you to name the pain, to celebrate the memory, and to search the landscape for signs of new life.

The challenge of the firestorm of grief is to accept its presence. The devastation is real. You cannot deny it – not for very long. Holidays seem to intensify the pain and add another layer to one’s grief. The special days fall short of what they are imagined to be.

Here are some thing you can do to better prepare yourself to deal with the upcoming “firsts” of grieving.

  1. Take care of yourself physically. Do the acronym DEER (drink, eat, exercise , rest). Failing to take care of yourself physically will only add to your fatigue and frustration.
  2. Think about celebrating this holiday differently. Maybe you celebrated the day with a big meal and board games around the dining room table. This year, you may want to have a smaller meal and go to a park or visit friends. Maybe, if it was just your family in the past, you want to invite other folks, neighbors, friends to celebrate the day in a different way.
  3. Focus on surviving this year’s holidays – just get through them. That is okay, especially if you remember that the holidays come every year. You can “skip” them once (or twice) with confidence as you move through your grief.
    Since the death or loss, many of the routine things that previously mattered or concerned you may mean almost nothing at all now.

  4. If you accept a holiday invitation to someone’s home, give yourself some leeway and be sure to have an exit strategy in place. Be upfront with your hosts that this is still a difficulty time and you may not come at all or you attend and leave early.
  5. Remember that a “something” attitude rather than an “all-or-nothing” attitude is a healthy way to approach these challenging days. You don’t have to do everything (or nothing) – you can do something, even if it is something small.

Finally, be gentle with yourself and those around you.

“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Lamentations 3:26

June 3, 2019

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