Saturday, December 7, 2019

Coping with the Grief Monster at the Holidays

Holidays, no matter how joyous, can have their challenges. These seem to manifest all the more strongly after experiencing a loss.  (Cue the music.)


Whether it is a death, a relationship issue, the loss of a job, the first year being separated by distance from a loved one, a serious illness that might cause loss of mobility or other issues or any significant and deeply sad or concerning life event, it can be a bit difficult to find happiness while the rest of the world seems holly jolly.


A number of years ago on my old blog, "Chopsticks and String," I shared some tips on coping with the holidays during a period of loss. Those hints were built over time from years of volunteering at a children's grief center, reading countless articles and books during my own journey and talking with any number of friends who have traveled the road you may be traveling now.


This post includes some of those ideas. I encourage you to please leave anything you may have found helpful in the past in the comment section.

Be Gentle With Yourself


Every year you did the holiday party. If it feels good to do it, don't hesitate. But remember, no one expects you to be the life of the party -- or the host. Someone else might like a turn!

Depending on how recent the loss or how you might connect that loss to the holiday season, you may choose to sit a few things out -- or tone them down. And maybe not. But the point is, this season can bring up all sorts of things. Good memories. Loads of baggage. If it's the first year you are not with your loved one, perhaps the first when your children are celebrating with their "other" family, it can be tough. Find the way that works best for you, whether it is being with a few dear friends, traveling to a new destination or volunteering at a shelter. You can make your new holiday.


Don't forget to rest.  You don't have to be the Energizer bunny. Store up your energy but take advantage of times you can let go and just rest.

Do One New Thing


Long ago, a friend once told me, I'm dreading the traditional this year. The new experiences I'm looking forward to, but the old ones -- I don't know."

So, give yourself a break. Pick the traditions that you want to hold onto this year (or always). But try something different too -- maybe it's a new cookie recipe, a different arrangement for decorations, making a gift, doing a craft, inviting a guest to dinner who has never been part of your celebration before. (Even if you're happy as a clam, why not give it a go?!)


You might discover the best and most unexpected holiday concert you've ever seen or walk through a winter wonderland. Whether it's the Nutcracker you've never seen or that first walk through the zoo, think outside of the box. It might become your new tradition!

Consider the Others


It's sometimes hard to think outside of one's own grief or loss. But doing so can bring great joy to yourself and others. Perhaps you might volunteer through an organized activity like a food pantry or ringing the bell for the Salvation Army. Maybe it means adopting a family in need. But it might be something as simple as helping an elderly neighbor wrap gifts, drop things at the post office or delivering cookies to the neighbors you've never met. You'll make that person's day and you'll feel pretty terrific yourself!


Or, practice "Random Acts of Christmas" -- chipping in $5 at the grocery cashier to go toward the order of the old man behind me, anonymously of course. Priming the meter or parking attendant with another dollar's worth for the next user. An anonymous gift to someone who needs a lift. Once you start, it is really hard to stop.

Get Out of Town


Consider a road trip. If being home is too hard, venture to a new place -- Toronto? Las Vegas (below)? New York? Or spend the holiday at the home of friends or other relatives.


It doesn't have to be a permanent tradition, but it might make the first year under new circumstances a little easier.


Honor the Memories


There can bea lot of long shadows at the holidays. While it may be difficult to find anything to smile about with certain losses (certainly loss of a job brings with it financial concerns and the memories of a divorce or separation might not be good ones), it can help to try.


You can remember a person who died in any one of a number of ways -- sharing memories at the table; lighting a candle in that person's memory; setting a place at the table; looking at photos; visiting the cemetery. If you are crafty, consider taking a garment they loved -- a favorite shirt or bathrobe -- and making ornaments for your tree and those of family members or close friends. A star ornament from a treasured garment will be a lasting reminder each year on your tree.


I have a "Dad" tree and a "Mom" tree. These very different trees reflect things they loved or collected. It's one way I can do something fun and cheery -- have a pretty tree -- yet remember their delightful and happy spirits.

 
This honoring of memories can be as public or as private as is right for you. Certainly, one can light a candle in private, while a place at the table may be more obvious. The point is, find what works for you.

Remember the Children


If you have young people in your family, they may be having difficulty in handling their feelings about a holiday season without mom or dad or a beloved grandparent or even a pet. They may have some behavior issues or simply be sad and tearful.


Try some of these activities with them: 
  • Let children design a paper place mat about their perfect Christmas (and don't be surprised if they draw the missing person)
  • Let them create a special ornament for the tree in honor of the person who died. 
  • Let them burn out their stress with a marshmallow fight! A few big bags of super-puffed marshmallows can fly across the room releasing some of that energy!
  • Encourage older ones to write a letter to the person who died, sharing their feelings. 

I also refer you to this link on the Ele's Place site about holiday tips for grieving children.  Ele's Place is a children's grief center that started here in Lansing, MI and now has other locations in the state. Their site has many excellent ideas.


Grief doesn't disappear on cue and holidays can kick your emotions in gear. Trust me on this -- I still have tricky moments at the holidays near my dad's death anniversary or when I hear certain songs. (If you play "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"-- even the Muppet version -- I will lose it.)


But the fact is, this is a part of life now. A new job may come along, a new relationship might bring joy. But a death is a death, whether we are mourning what was or what was not and now never would be. Believe that it can and will change over time, that healing isn't always fast and one may well always feel the loss. In good time it will heal. Getting through the now is what matters first.

And accept hugs.


Just be gentle. Because you are a survivor. And you will survive.

Sharing with:   Let's Keep In Touch     

49 comments:

Barbara Anne said...

Brilliant! Thanks for this.

Wishing you well.

bobbie said...

What a beautiful post, Jeanie ~ You give excellent tips on how to handle holiday grief ~
Hugs ~

Rustic Pumpkin said...

Thank you. Grief at Christmas is not like anything anyone will ever understand until they have to go through it themselves, and for those of us who have certain anniversaries close to, or in, December, or going through that first year, Christmas is a minefield of emotions. This is my second Christmas and it is no less difficult than last year.

May we find strength, courage and peace as we travel this path.

Deb in Wales

My Grama's Soul said...

Hello Jeanie.....of course I relate so very much to this thoughtful post. You have shared great tips for dealing with grief around the holidays....but I find that as time passes everything gets a little easier. We are Celebrating Christmas this year...not in the old way but in a new way we have established since my Scott's passing. I will always remember him at the holidays in fact I remember him EVERYDay.....BUT IT DOES GET EASIER.

xo

Jo

Misadventures of Widowhood said...

Grief at the holidays is more common than some might think. This was a beautiful reminder to us all to be sensitive this time of the year to the needs of people who have losses in their recently history. My dad died on Christmas day (my mom on Easter) so I know all about the mixed bag of memories the holidays can bring.

Lowcarb team member said...

An excellent post and read, with some very good tips.
There are many who find that holidays, no matter how joyous, can certainly have their challenges.
I always find that it helps to keep busy, keep occupied … it is not always easy but we come through it …
Blessings to all.

All the best Jan

Laurie said...

what a beautiful post, if ever one was suited to help the needy it would be you,, such a generous heart you have, beautiful wonderful post. I feel a loss this Christmas because I've lost so much of my eyesight this year but the joy over laps it for sure. This will be my best Christmas ever,, sight or no sight I just know it will be, my whole family will be here together.Thank you for sharing such a helpful post.

DUTA said...

In my experience, being with grief among celebrating, joyful people - intensifies the grief.
What works for me is keeping busy and being kind to myself.

The Joy of Home with Martha Ellen said...

Jeanie, this post has such good advice. The holidays are difficult as we remember the loss of loved ones. It really doesn't matter how long ago the loss occurred. I love your trees honoring your parents---so sweet.

Linda said...

Great post Jeanie. I wish everyone could be gentle with themselves♥

At Rivercrest Cottage said...

Your words have extra special meaning to me this year. We lost Wild Bill on the 3rd of DEC.

Lynne said...

Excellent wonderful post Jeanie!
Thank you for including this in the midst of all the Ho, Ho, Ho.

Judy at GoldCountryCottage said...

Jeanie, how nice of you to put this up. These are always good rules to live by but especially at this time of year. When my mom passed just before Thanksgiving that was a day that was so hard to enjoy but when Christmas rolled around I remembered how much she loved the holidays and the Christmas decorating, so I did an extra job that year in her honor. I think probably that is why I love Christmas so much. It reminds me of her almost more than any other time and after all these years I can enjoy the good things about it because of her..Happy Weekend..xxoJudy

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

What a wonderful and heartfelt post to share with us at this time of year. My grandparents both died around my birthday, so I don't often think of this holiday season as anything special, except the first couple of years. But those years, I missed them every day, so Christmas was just one more in a never ending series of pain. It does get easier, but I still appreciate the way you approached this topic that few want to discuss until it's put in front of them.

Evi Erlinda said...

Great thoughts to cope the grief!
Have a lovely weekend, Jeanie.

Valerie-Jael said...

Wonderful post! Hugs, Valerie

Pam Richardson said...

Jeanie, this is such a wonderful list for any who might feel grief or loss during the Christmas Season. I will be sharing your post with a couple of friends who can benefit from your life experience! Thank you my friend!

eileeninmd said...

Hello Jeanie,

Wonderful tips and a great post. During the holidays I often think of my who have passed away, I try remembering them during the happy times. Thanks for sharing!

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

This is so wonderful and I wish everyone could read it. Too much emphasis is put on one day being perfect! It just can't be joyous for everyone. And then there are those of us that don't keep a traditional Christmas. It's confusing for so many. Thanks for taking the time to share this. You are a wonderful writer!

La Table De Nana said...

A very thoughtful and tmely post:)♥
So you.
So appreciated.

Rita C at Panoply said...

So relevant. Our culture is so full of the idea of a perfect Christmas, we totally forget why it's celebrated. Good words, Jeanie.

Preppy Empty Nester said...

Beautifully written, sweet Jeanie, and lovely sentiment. The holidays can be so sad for those who are grieving.

Preppy Empty Nester said...

Beautifully written and lovely sentiment, dear Jeanie. The holidays can be sad for some.

Becca said...

This is the best list I’ve read this season, thanks so much for sharing. Peace and love to you, Jeanie ❤️

Sami said...

Beautiful post Jeanie.
I love the Random Acts of Christmas idea, will certainly do some of these.
Big hug to you :)

Victoria Zigler said...

These are great tips. I shared them around so others can potentially benifit from them too.

Oh, and... Erm... Content warning for you for my Christmas Eve post, which I scheduled yesterday and contains two versions of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" in it.

I need orange said...

So much wise advice, Jeanie. Thank you.

Jenny Woolf said...

This is a kind and good post Jeanie. I think there is a lot of solace to be had in reaching out to help other people - but when grief is raw it can be hard to bear that in mind. I also do like the idea of random acts of kindness.

Sandra Cox said...

What a wonderful post, Jeanie. I especially like the Random Acts of Kindness:)

My name is Erika. said...

I like the mom tree and the dad tree. What a fabulous idea. The holidays can be hard for people (even without a loss) but you have some fabulous ideas. Happy new week. Hugs-Erika

Prims By The Water said...

Wonderful post! So true. Janice

Regina said...

This is a wonderful post Jeanie. So many out there who are going through grief in one form or another. Thank you for posting this.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Heartfelt post, Jeannie! Grief and loss are always more acutely felt during the holidays, when everyone else is in a celebatory mood. It can be quite isolating. Your advice is helpful

Iris Flavia said...

I will never forgive myself - or will I - for listening to my Brother and not driving through snow when my Mum was dying.
Likely he was right and she would not have felt I am there. But what if?
She lost her fight against cancer on December 29th.
I had to call the youngest Brother, not aware it was his Birthday.
He was so cheerfully as the contact had just been re-established at my Brother´s wedding and this was the news I had to give.

The weirdest thing was... for days I could not eat properly.
The moment my Brother called to say Mum had "made it" I cried and then got HUNGRY.

Funny! Saturday we bought water color-stuff!
Now this is a bit... weird ;-)

Oh, that is a wonderful idea, to help someone at the cash-out. Not possible in old Germany :-(
We still use pins and real money... In Australia we have to sign and no one has a pen! "Oh, the Germans again!"...


Very, very cool picture of that lady. May I print that?

I love the idea of Mum and Dad trees!
Oh, my Dad, he drove me nuts using real candles. (And much more! ;-)...)

My big Niece got to meet my Mum, but I reckon she cannot rember.
Omi and Opi are on the graveyeard, that´s it.

Thank you, this was a good exercise. HUGS...

Anonymous said...

Been there. Thanks, Jeanie.

Cath

Sandra at Maison De Jardin said...

Jeanie, this is a wonderful post. I especially love, "Consider the Others." We always help ourselves when we help others. All are perfect and hold the true meaning of Christmas. I will keep this, Jeanie. Thank you for such a meaningful post.

Anca said...

A dear friend of mine died just after Christmas. I was in high-school and he was one year older. He had cancer, so we all knew he was going to die, but, after all these years, I still remember hearing the news. I was by his bedside, in hospital, left the room for 30 minutes, and he died. Every Christmas I remember him. This was just the kind of post I needed to read. Hugs xx

R's Rue said...

Timely post. 🙏👍

Tracy said...

Hi, Jeanie! So GOOD to catch up with you! And what a timely post is this... Christmastime, and other bigger occasions, can trigger difficult feelings and memories. It's not always "the most wonderful time of the year" at every moment... The holidays can be hard, for so many reasons! Thank you for these good coping strategies! :) ((HUGS))

Pam said...

Great post. After you commented about writing this I had to go back and read it. Its been rough. The feeling of the holiday have just not found me. I love the music and the lights but with all that I have not done any decorating. I am keeping a low profile just cause I don't wish to mess up any ones mood. Finding it hard to do any of the above though, feeling it hard to do what I enjoy, Crafting, painting, or doing what I need to do....laundry, clean house. And its not all the loss of mom however I really would love to get back to caring about things....

crackercrumblife said...

This is a wonderful post Jeannie. I will have to share it with my family.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Great post, Jeanie. I love that you volunteered at a grief center - and that such a center exists. What a wonderful way to give back. Holidays are a tough time of year for a lot of people. It's been 6 years since Phil lost his dad. The holidays are tough. Having Paul around helps but holidays seem to magnify those feelings. He's commented on how 'quiet' holidays feel before Paul came along. They are less quiet now but now there is the sadness about how Don will never know our little Paul. Then I think of Phil's mom who lost a child (his name was Paul - that's one of the Pauls our little guy was named after) when he was 21 months. And a sister to suicide. And then a husband. The list just goes on and on for her, sadly, as she's the only living person in her immediate family.

Anonymous said...

Jeanie, So glad I finally found your blog. So many wonderful ideas for coping during the holidays. You have been so kind with your comments, and I need to thank you for caring. It is truly the most comforting thing to know that people care. I don’t know how you found me but so glad you did. Hope your holidays are filled with love and peace. Penny, At Home in English Valley

William Kendall said...

Wisely put.

This is a very difficult time of year for me. I can always count on a depression coming over me, and so it has again. It'll lift after Christmas is done.

Kitty said...

Jeanie, you did such a wonderful job putting this episode of gypsy together. As I read it there were many places that I felt you were writing just to me! I was talking to some ladies today who have lost husbands in the last few months. They echoed a lot of what you have said. You are a very skilled writer and I am so happy to be apart of your readership. Love to you and Rick,.



Katie Mansfield said...

It's like you read my mind. A great post, Jeanie. Thanks for sharing at Keep In Touch. I don't feel sad but I feel super Grinchy but underneath it's probably sadness. I keep looking at the Christmas cards on the dining room table but I just cannot make myself go fill them out.

Barb said...

Such a meaningful post, Jeanie. I want to remember some of these ideas. The holidays can be stressful and sad for many - hugs to you for these reminders.

Kitty said...

Thanks for your insights Jeanie. I know you wrote it some time ago but I just found it now, when I needed it the most. Love to you and Rick.

Olka said...

I have nothing to add, thanks for sharing your experiences!

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