“Give yourself the gift of good support, self-compassion and flexibility during this holiday season.”
When encountering the holidays after a loss, its completely normal to feel a little unsure or overwhelmed on how to be. Some may experience what we call anticipatory grief about the upcoming event itself. This is a form of grief that can contain feelings of loss, anger, sadness, etc. about the future holiday season without your loved one.
You may be asking yourself:
“What am I going to do this holiday season without____________?”
“How am I going to feel that day?”
“Can I handle going to this family, friend or work event?”
There are many ways to support yourself in easing these concerns.
First, increase your support systems
Make sure you have reliable, safe support that you can call and/or go see before, during and after the holidays. This can include trusted friends, family members, support groups and a grief counselor. It is completely normal (and difficult) to have some intense emotions around the holidays after a loss. In most states, there are events held by different organizations around the holiday time to honor those who have died. This can be another way to support yourself with others who can relate to what you are feeling. To ensure you are well cared for, have a good support net and tell them what your thoughts, feelings and requests for support throughout the holiday season.
It is also completely normal and recommended to take breaks!
You might not be up for the usual holiday bustle and business. If you feel exhausted, listen to that and make good boundaries. You can say a compassionate ‘No’ and take care of yourself. Another type of break is when you are sunk very low from grieving. It is healthy and recommended by grief counselors to take a break from grief when you can. Some folks can feel a little guilty that they are enjoying themselves. Just remember that your loved one would most likely want you to experience some lightness. You may want to try to enjoy some healthy holiday distraction to lift your spirits…even if it’s just for a moment.
Make a “Compassionate Compromise Plan”
Create plans and ALSO be willing to throw them out if it’s not what you need when the day comes. You can apply this to any holiday plans you have coming up. From my years as a grief counselor, I have seen that people make it better through holiday events with some sort of plan. When they day comes, its helpful to have given yourself (and others) prior permission to do what is needed in the moment. You may not know what you need, but at least you have released the pressure of “having to do it” a certain way this year.
For example, let’s say you have lost your spouse, and your adult kids really want to come over to decorate the tree. Your first inclination is that you are NOT feeling up to that…yet, you still want to try. You let your kids know that you are not sure if you are up for this and may need some flexibility. Together, brainstorm other options for that day that feel comforting and reasonable. Perhaps you will start decorating the tree and you need to stop…it’s just too much.
Then you remember that your Compassionate Compromise Plan for today was:
- Going out to a movie or
- Take a walk and look at lights or
- Take a short break and let kids finish or
- Take a nap or
- Share my/our feelings or
The idea is to invoke compassion and flexibility with any holiday plans, so you can receive the best care possible on what can be very difficult days. Remember, that in families and friend groups, you all might have a different idea of what “plan” looks like. This is a time to extend grace to each other. You all may need different things if this is a shared loss. Make sure you are taking care of you and allow others to find what they need as well.
What do we do about family traditions?
In many families, friends and workplaces it is bittersweet to continue the usual traditions after a loss. This can provide a sense of structure and normalcy which can instill comfort. On the other hand, the loss of a loved one’s participation in these festivities can be a bit too much for some to face. Usually the first couple of holiday seasons are hard for folks-everyone grieves differently. Just know that you are allowed to change traditions! This is not meant to disrespect or minimize the many religious traditions around the holidays. Rather, I would invite you and yours to create something new or complete change it or simply rest! Sometimes a loss can invoke brand new family traditions or include an intentional gesture or honoring of your loved one. Instead of increasing an “I should” self-talk that may not be very helpful in the long run.
Self-Care and Isolation
It is not unheard-of people isolating around the holiday times because its difficult to face everyone. Make sure to balance your “NO” with some healthy “YES”’s to seeing family, friends and coworkers. Having time alone is a very important process for many while grieving. It is my experience as a grief counselor that we tend to isolate too much when dealing with loss. Remember there are others out there that love you and want to support you. If you do feel you need additional support outside of friends and family, a counselor that specializes in grief can help. There are also support groups, online holiday memorials and in personal memorials at many hospice organizations that are open to the public.
Your feelings about your loss matter and are worthy of compassion and care. The loss of someone you love is a journey through many feelings and many seasons. Give yourself the gift of good support, self-compassion and flexibility during this holiday season.