With the stores in full-blown Christmas, mode, happy, smiling people on TV commercials every five minutes. The familiar Carols on every radio station, it’s impossible to ignore the season. The countdown is on to party time, bright lights and having fun. Normally, you too would be among friends and family enjoying the frantic beauty of the season. However, this year you may be dreading it especially if you have experienced the loss of a loved one.
My heart goes out to you. I know what it’s like to lose a loved one at this time of year, as both my parents passed away in November. Even though it’s extremely difficult, you can survive the holidays. In this guide, I’ve listed several things that helped me to cope with my losses and it’s my hope these tips will help you, too.
Accept Where You Are Just for Now
If you’re experiencing grief, late November until the beginning of a new year can be very difficult. It’s a challenge for everyone to navigate, especially when you are grieving, it can feel like climbing a mountain. You may have noticed that your energy is low and it’s hard to get enthusiastic about anything during the holidays. Everything seems like such a chore. You may find it’s hard to stay focused.
These are all normal feelings for anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one. You may already dread facing the biggest holiday in the calendar year without that special someone. If you had your wish, you might just hibernate until Groundhog Day in February.
While hibernation may not be possible, choosing to skip the season with all the emotional triggers and potential pitfalls could be an option for you
You have at least noticed your emotional state which is great and for now, perhaps you could accept these feelings just for the moment? By not accepting how you are feeling and pushing through anyway, you may experience even more pain and anguish later on.
It is natural to have thoughts like “I have to be brave” or “It’s expected of me”. I always host”, or “The house always looks so wonderful, how can I not participate this year?” These thoughts can send your flying into planning mode and then you may totally exhaust yourself long before the big day. You may even create arguments with family members or friends because you are frustrated, hurting and overwhelmed.
Please know grief work is exhausting and its main function is to stop us in our tracks so that we’ll take the time to deal with our emotions and reflect on our loss. In today’s fast-paced world this is a lovely dream but often it’s far from our reality.
Grief is about a broken heart and not a broken head. This is why we can at times, push through using the sheer power of our minds. Your heart hasn’t caught up to your head. Your heart needs time to process. Your heart isn’t in the task so you will find yourself pushing yourself using sheer mind power – and this is exhausting.
Instead of muscling through, stop, take a deep breath and settle your mind.
You may still be outwardly mourning and please know this is normal, most especially if your loss is a recent one.
You want things to remain the same because there is comfort in routine. The feeling you are experiencing could be fear which can cause your resistance to the many inner changes brought about by a loss. Just know that by resisting you are holding on to the past, which is only natural. After all, who really enjoys change? However, accepting that there will be many changes may be helpful.
Perhaps guilt is holding you back. It is natural to feel this as it doesn’t seem right that you should be enjoying yourself or even laughing and having fun when you’re loved one has just passed away. Many in grief have expressed the same sentiment. But if you think about it, wouldn’t your loved one want you to laugh and have fun?
It is hard on the body to be constantly sad and grieving. Laughter is a way of balancing the body’s emotions. Give yourself this gift. Laugh when you feel like laughing. It will release some of the tension along with some natural endorphins.
Regardless of where you are in your grief process, perhaps this is the right moment to sit down and relax. Start by taking a few deep breaths in and out. Begin by sitting for at least five minutes. Find a quiet place with no distractions. This will bring your mind into the present moment and once it is focused where you can start to think more logically and plan how Christmas will look like for you and your family this year.
Consider Scaling Back
If you decide to host, you could ask some family members to come early on Christmas day to help you with the meal preparation. Even better you could ask who would be willing to cook certain items of the meal. It may be hard to give up control of the meal this way but it is just for this year. Accept the additional help.
The hardest decision of all will be whether or not to set a place at the table where your loved one used to sit. Again, it is much better to decide what you would prefer before the day. Discuss this concern with your family. Doing so will put you and your family members at ease. If you chose not to set a place, you may want to mention the deceased by name before the start of your dinner. Your guest may hold back from wanting to mention the person for fear of upsetting you.
Don’t worry – mention them, it will be such a relief to you and your guests. The unspoken has now been spoken and everyone including you can relax. As you plan for the holiday season, take time to recall if there was a specific thing you did with the person who has died. It may be this thought that is holding you back from wanting to make plans.
Perhaps it was the tree you chose together or decorating the tree together. Recognizing the activity that made it special for you and your loved one will help you avoid a potential trigger point. Allow yourself
To feel this emotion and when you have finished, decide if there is a new tradition you could now create for yourself. Perhaps you could buy a ready dressed tree. This could help save you much time and energy.
Speaking from personal experience, going to the Candlelight service on Christmas Eve with my family was the tradition that held the most emotion. The year my Dad died I found the idea of attending the service just too emotional for me so we didn’t go. Instead, we spent time relaxing rather than rushing our supper in order to get to the service.
It turned out to be enjoyable and much more relaxing for us. We created a new tradition. Give yourself permission to try something different instead, something that will work for you.
Ask for Help
Much of this has already been covered however it bears repeating. When you are in grief, your energy is not optimal and you may find most things, even thinking, can exhaust you, especially if the loss is recent.
Even after many years, the holidays can still hold emotional triggers so be kind to yourself, recognize your limitations and ask for help. It is such a gift to those who have already volunteered when you do call on them for help. This is the perfect opportunity to do so. Make sure you ask them well ahead of time so as not to be disappointed.
The holidays are a busy time for most of us, so, it is important to make your plans early in order to see just what help you need and who could potentially help you.
Accept and allow yourself to be helped. Receive it with an open heart. Too often we close people down by shutting out their offers of help. Give yourself an early gift and them also. Remember it isn’ t always better to give. I am certain you have given help so many times that you have built up a giving balance by now – it is time to redeem it. Just for this year anyway.
Avoid Sugar Highs & Lows
If you decide to attend Christmas parties over the holidays, please be careful with the sugary treats and alcohol (sugar). This is hard to do at the best of times but when you’re grieving you are already on an emotional roller coaster and adding more sugar, or alcohol, to your diet could make your emotions worse.
Where your emotions are concerned, you do not need the additional sugar rush to help you peak on the highs or lows because you are already doing so. Mourning has enough ups and downs.
Instead, make sure you eat throughout the day and please do not think that by not eating during the day you can enjoy more food later. When a person is grieving the body needs fuel to keep you going so don’t shortchange yourself. If you aren’t able to eat much because you just are not hungry, be sure to go easy if you have a glass of wine or a cocktail. It is not a good idea to have alcohol on an empty tummy.
Instead, eat something before you have a drink. Make sure to keep your body hydrated by drinking water. In grief, the body requires more fluid due to all the tears that are flowing. If you do decide to drink alcohol, have a glass of water in between.
Remove the Pasted Happy Face
You may unknowingly put on a Happy Face to help yourself feel better or to help put others at ease. Please don’t force it. It doesn’t serve you but instead prevents you from truly feeling your emotions.
A Happy Face is a mask and in many instances, people around you can tell what you are feeling just by your body language. Your face and body are giving two different messages. Being authentic and true to yourself will help you move through your grief process more easily. Masking your feelings only lengthens the process.
Remember: the only way through grief is to feel it. When others ask you how you are it is much better to let them know you are not doing well. Be honest. There’s no need to elaborate but if they press you, it’s okay to let them know right now isn’t a good time and suggest another time, after the holidays, to talk. On the other hand, if you feel like talking, express yourself. This way you’re acknowledging what you are feeling and not discounting what is going on inside.
I have found by recognizing what is coming up for me, acknowledging it and giving myself permission to cry later or tomorrow works nicely. This way I can schedule in some time by journaling or reflecting and allowing my emotions to bubble up. This is all part of good self-care.
Decide to Speak About Your Loved One
The thought of mentioning the deceased’s name can be upsetting and you may not be comfortable doing so. Your family members and guests may be uncomfortable as well and not know how to deal with the subject.
Speaking about the person first will help to put you and everyone else more at ease. You will be addressing the “elephant in the room”.
Acknowledge the deceased person and invite others to do the same. You may find you will hear more stories that you were not aware of and be happier for the sharing. It could be emotional, to begin with; however, it will help you the more times you can talk about your loss.
My mum and I were never good at this and in the beginning, we both avoided mentioning Dad. As upsetting as it was for us, I am sure had we decided to talk about him we would have better comforted each other, instead of being mindful of not upsetting the other.
If you chose not to speak about your loss you may find yourself ill at ease and on edge in case, their name is mentioned in the conversation. It is so much more freeing to share and allow yourself to be supported.
Going to Parties
This may be a good year to cut down on the number of parties you attend. As mentioned earlier, your energy levels will be lower than normal. This is why planning out what you would like to do this season will help you with these decisions. It’s ok to cancel; your hostess will understand.
Do not feel obliged to attend because you agreed to months ago. Decide if smaller parties would be more manageable. In my grief, I couldn’t attend the larger parties as the mere thought of large gatherings was too overwhelming. But smaller gatherings were more manageable and it felt good to go as it was a nice change of pace.
Often in grief, we can get caught up in the guilt of “I can’t enjoy myself right now. It isn’t right”.
Sometimes a change of scenery and pace can do a world of good for boosting the spirits. If you decide to attend one or two perhaps by thinking ahead you could plan your exit strategy should you feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable. You may decide to only spend a couple of hours and have a friend make sure to check on you at a specified time.
Make sure to bring separate cars or book a taxi if needed. Speak to the hostess before the party and let her know you will attend but may need to leave early and coming to find her to thank her may not be an option. This way you can safely leave with no guilt.
Christmas shopping is challenging enough even if you’re not grieving. Perhaps you are the organized one who shops all year for the perfect gift for your family and friends. However, too many of us, myself included, leave it to the last month or moment. This is another great opportunity to add shopping for gifts to your list of growing activities.
You may feel overwhelmed by the mere thought of it so if this is the case perhaps online shopping could be your answer. This way you are not using your precious energy to battle the crowds or parking lots. Thank yourself for being aware of your feelings, take deep breaths. Have a cup of tea and start to plan your list of who you would like to buy for and what the gift idea may be. Go to your computer and start your shopping in peace.
You may also decide that you will take this opportunity to cut back and simplify your gift giving. This is what we did as a family when my Dad died. We introduced the idea of secret Santa and put a price limit on the gift
You now have your plan, or at least, a much better idea of what action you can take each day. Don’t forget to add one action item in there for yourself. Self-care is so important and something we all need to focus on especially during times of grief. Take time each day to do something fun for yourself. This can be as simple as a five-minute breathing exercise before your day begins, taking a walk in nature, reflecting over a cup of tea or coffee or all of the above. Scheduling in time to see your hairdresser, have a massage or pedicure can also do wonders for you.
Drink Plenty of Water
When you are grieving, your energy is low and you will need to take care of your emotions. The urge to do nothing is always strong, however, it is essential to practice self-care each day together with some action steps. These simple actions will help you gain some control over your life will to reinvigorate your confidence as you complete them.
Balance in everyday life is always a good way to live, however not easy to accomplish. This is even harder when you are grieving and are a part of the workforce. Finding ways to take care of yourself is even more essential and will help you better deal with your stress levels
Ensure you practice doing something for yourself each day. You may feel you do not have the time, however, everyone needs a break. Take two minutes for yourself, close your eyes and slow your breathing down by taking three or four deep breaths. This alone can help you balance your stress. You may find you are more alert after you have taken a little time out.
This is so important especially in the early days when tears and weeping are more constant. Weeping takes more fluid from your body than you may realize.
Our bodies work well on six to eight glasses of water and waiting until your thirsty is a sure sign you are dehydrated. Instead of reaching for more coffee, why not put the kettle on and have a cup of hot lemon water if you are not a fan of cold water. If you need a sugar fix, add honey to the lemon water. Hot water with a slice of ginger can help warm you up.
If you workout, you may need to add additional water just to keep your body working optimally. It is not only our bodies that require water our brains do as well. In grief, our brains can feel foggy so by not drinking enough, you could be adding to the brain fog. Our brains cannot retain water so need a ready supply in the body to function optimally.
Remember to drink and as a reminder, have a glass of water around your work area.
Congratulations! You have made it, you have your plan and you know what your holiday season and Christmas Day will look like. You have your list of who to call for help and you also have an idea of which holiday parties you would like to attend. The presents have been decided or you have a clearer idea of what your gift giving will be this year.
Now is the time to leave guilt and judgment at the door and give yourself permission to laugh and enjoy the season with your friends and family members. You will be relaxed and may even be looking forward to it instead of dreading it.
You will have your wobbly moments but with your plan, you will have a way to take care of these moments. By planning ahead, you can be comfortable and relaxed knowing everything you have chosen for this year is taken care of and in good order.
One last thing: something may not go according to plan. Relax, let go and enjoy the imperfect but perfect situation and laugh. You can’t control everything.
Happy Holidays to all!
PS: Please remember you are entering a guilt-free zone whatever you chose.