Ahhhh ... The Holidays are approaching quickly. “The holidays are times spent with our loved ones.” This has been imprinted on our psyche from a young age. Holidays mark the passage of time in our lives. They are part of the milestones we share with each other and they generally represent time spent with family.
But since holidays are for being with those we love the most, how on earth can anyone be expected to cope with them when a loved one has died? For many people, this is the hardest part of grieving, when we miss our loved ones even more than usual. How can we celebrate togetherness when there is none?
When you lose someone special, your world lacks its celebratory qualities. Holidays magnify that loss. The sadness deepens and the loneliness can feel isolating. The need for support may be the greatest during the holidays. Pretending you don’t hurt and/or it isn’t a harder time of the year is just not the truth for you. But you can – and will – get through the holidays. Rather than avoiding the feelings of grief, lean into them. It is not the grief you want to avoid, it is the pain. No one can take that pain away, but grief is not just pain, grief is love with nowhere to go.
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to deep loss. We do everything we can to avoid the pain it came and deposited inside of our hearts. We do what people tell us to do, you know the myths by now:
Don't Feel Bad
Replace the Loss
Be Strong for Others
Give it Time
Does any of these myths about grief actually help with the pain? The answer is no. But here's what it does do. When someone tells you, "Don't feel bad," and they may even go as far as to tell you why you shouldn't feel bad. The truth is they are not comfortable with your pain.
If you have lost a spouse/partner/divorce, or worse, a child, they may even tell you to replace the loss. They'll say things like, "There are plenty of fish in the sea ... Just go find someone else to fill the void. So, maybe you do that, and yet your heart quickly discovers you cannot replace the loss. Some people have told parents, "Well, at least you have other children, you should be grateful." OR "You're still young, you can have another child." OUCH! I can't even imagine the pain of burying a child. As parent of three, I love them all, and I love them differently. We each have our own unique relationship and I could never replace any of them. Ever.
You may give it time, and that leads you to the isolation of greiving alone. You've put on the mask and have learned the hard way, to just tell everyone who asks, "How are you doing?" You reply with, "I'm fine." and yet, deep within you know better. Your heart is feeling as if it had been shredded into tiny pieces and you don't where to start to get it back to the way it was before the loss.
The harsh reality is that you may start seeking of outlets to relieve the pain you feel. You've discovered all of those well-intended logical pieces of advice just aren't working for you. So you may begin to shop, or as we call this in recovery, do a little 'retail therapy.' You may hit happy hour after a long, stressful day. Alcohol may relieve the pain, but only short term. You may reach out to movies, drugs, sleep, video games, or anything you can to stay busy and not feel the depths of the pain. These are known as Short Term Energy Relief Behaviors - a.k.a. S.T.E.R.B.
I'm Sorry for Your Loss ...
How many times did you hear that one? Did it make you feel sick after a while? Maybe you felt that familiar twinge of anger and just wanted to scream, "IF I HEAR ONE MORE PERSON SAY I AM SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS I AM GOING TO FLIP OUT!!" You know what, You're nomal, and no, you're not going crazy either. I remember snapping at a family member when my sister died and my reply was, "What is it exactly that you are sorry for?" They replied, "Well, she's in a better place." My thoughts were, "No, she's not in better place, that better place would be here, raising her 10 year old and three year old daughters."
I remember the sadness of our first Christmas - the tears, the isolation, the anger that surged. To be told that "Only the good die young," or "God only takes the best," was NOT helping anyone during that season. I carried deep grief, regrets, guilt, and remorse for nearly 28 years after her death. The grief went ahead of me every time her beautiful daughters went to prom, got their driver's license, had their first boyfriend, and the pain of the breakup, graduated high school, married, had their first born child, and the list goes on ...
I share this only to say I relate with what you may be feeling.
Let's get real here for a minute. We all have those would have, should have, and could have kind of thoughts. This is a indication that you have an incomplete relationship with the person you've lost in life. They are no longer here to express how you may have felt, what they truly meant to you, and the things you wished you could have, would have and should have done had you know what you know now.
So what can you do about the upcoming holidays? Well, you can cancel the holidays if you're not up to the celebratory mood. Yes, you can cancel them. But, will that change how you feel? Working in the death industry for 23 years shows that suicides go up during the holidays. Please don't be another statistic. We've seen enough death throughout the pandemic and continue to hear news about the vaccines causing myocardial failure in young, healthy adults.
What you can do is embrace your grief. Write down what you're really feeling deep within. Identify those array of emotions. Guilt, regrets, unpsoken words, love, loneliness, depression, sadness, or whatever comes to you, give it a name. Trauma can also be a part of what you feel. What tapes play over inside your head?
You see, the whole point of recovery is to be able to look back, and heal those hard, negative emotions you're carrying inside of your heart. Your head isn't broken, so applying logic is not the key to healing. It's your heart that is broken, and you need to get complete on the relationship(s) you've lost in this life. Once you do the grief work, and you can see that recovery IS possible, you can rebuild your life. You can find happiness, love and joy again.
All you need is someone to sit with you in your pain. Someone who is not going to judge you, tell you how to feel or what you should do. I have had so many people go through The Grief Recovery Method and tell me, "I paid a therapist thousands of dollars, and nothing we did showed me what I just learned here. I can't thank you enough. I am emotionally drained, but you helped me drain the wrong emotions and replace them with good ones."
Being brutally honest is the key. It's hard to vulnerable sometimes, but so worth it.
I was reading a blog that a grief therapist posted, and the advice given was mind boggling to me. Here's what they advised - (copied and pasted)
Ways to externalize the loss – give it a time and a place
A prayer before the Holiday dinner, about your loved one.
Light a candle for your loved one.
Create an online tribute for them.
Share a favorite story about your loved one.
Have everyone tell a funny story about your loved one.
At your place of worship remember them in a prayer.
Chat online about them.
Yes, these tips can be helpful for a moment. The most important thing that someone who is grieving needs is to talk about their loved ones. Say there name, remember and honor the past, and prayer is powerful. I am not discrediting any of the above advice. It can be helpful, short term. My goal is to give you the tools, to help you heal the past, and embrace every upcoming holiday without the dread you may be feeling now.
I'd love to hear from you about how you're doing considering the holidays are approaching. What's you plan on getting through them? How are you really coping? I hate to think of anyone spending the holidays alone, isolated and depressed. It's a season to give so much love, fellowship and embrace our faith.
My heart for the grieving is beginning to feel heavy because I don't know how to show them how recovery truly can bring change to their current situation. I can't seem to show how badly recovery is needed in this hurting world. I just want to ask if you're willing to make the same investment I made when I decided to work grief recovery ... Yes, it's an investment towards inner peace, happiness, joy, and releasing a lot of pain, regrets, and guilt. You're worth it!
My wish for you this holiday season is that you find inner healing. You free yourself from that pain, and embrace a future worth living again.
From my heart to yours,