Many people believe that a cardinal heralds the presence of a dearly departed loved one, a comforting thought during the acute stages of grief. Yet, myriad unsung losses cause profound suffering during the holiday season. Learn tips to cope with grief from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.
Grief extends beyond the experience of losing a loved one to death. Often people struggle with losses from other life events, including illness, divorce, caring for a disabled loved one, cutoff relationships, losing a home, infertility, unemployment, childhood abuse, domestic violence, unrealized dreams, or losing a pet.
Mourning (the outward expression of grief) becomes more challenging during the holiday season. There is no escape from the endless loops of Christmas music at stores, holiday decorations on city streets, and barrages of seasonal images from TV commercials. Indeed, this is a time of magical enchantment, warm family gatherings, and brightly wrapped gift packages. But how can one mourn when the commercial world appears joyful? How can one be joyful when one’s personal world has collapsed?
Grief-related exhaustion heightens with the social mandate of imposed cheerfulness at holiday events. Often the bereaved are blatantly or subtly encouraged to “cheer up” and enjoy the holidays. Those who beg out of painful social events face criticism for not getting over their grief quickly enough. These types of pressures only intensify the experience of feeling alone.
Here are tips to ease the pain of holiday grief. Consider clicking the arrow below to listen to soothing sounds of birds chirping as you reflect on the suggestions described below.
1. Create a special ritual to honor your loss.
A holiday ritual of remembering a departed loved one can add meaning to the holiday and encourage a healthy expression of grief. Ideas include making a unique ornament, photo collage, or building a birdbath as a memorial tribute. Consider honoring a loss by reading a favorite story, listening to a special song, or baking a favorite recipe to serve at a holiday event. These rituals can be done alone or shared with supportive loved ones.
2. Educate others about grief.
Grief, an elusive life experience, cannot be understood unless experienced. Yet even birds and pets show signs of depression when they lose a mate. A significant can take 2-3 years to mourn, with the second year often being more painful than the first. Those who have never experienced a profound loss usually lack the tools to understand and process grief. David Kessler, a prominent authority on grief offers many educational resources on his website.
3. Learn to say “NO!”
Grief saps a lot of energy. Therefore, conserve your resources by pursuing only holiday traditions that hold meaning for you. Limit contact with insensitive people and simplify the holiday chores and activities. Ask for help – especially with dreaded tasks like shopping or cleaning. Read more tips on easing holiday stress.
4. Let yourself feel a bit of joy.
Mourners often feel guilty when they experience a moment of happiness. Grief does not need to consume every moment of your life. Allow your inner child to play and avoid numbing your holiday grief with excessive shopping, eating, or alcohol. Find time to feather your nest with comforting down pillows and rest peacefully.
5. Engage in meaningful spiritual practice.
Like no other life event, loss often trigger the question, “What is the meaning of life?” Although there are no easy answers, the personal pursuit of this question through prayer, religious ceremony, spiritual reading, and conversations with clergy can help you find a birds-eye view of the meaning of your loss.
Many bereaved people become dissatisfied with their jobs or careers. After a period of healing, it might be helpful to explore career options. If you’re in the right occupation but the wrong job, these job-search tips may be useful.
6. Modify your expectations.
So often, bereaved people overly focus on the glass half empty. Helping others in need or volunteering at a local animal shelter can help to put your struggles into perspective. Start a daily practice of writing down three things for which you are grateful.
7. Take care of yourself to ease holiday grief.
Make a special effort to eat nutritious meals, drink plenty of water and get enough rest, especially when you don’t feel like it. Savor a bird bite of dark chocolate as you enjoy a soothing cup of herbal tea. Read this article on ideas for promoting well-being.
8. Reach out to others.
Find supportive people with whom you can share your holiday grief. An excellent resource is GriefShare, a structured support group offered at many churches throughout the US. They also host a special program on Surviving the Holidays. Remember that birds of a feather flock together, especially during grief.
9. Ease your stress by soothing your senses.
Simply engage your senses with sights, sounds, scents, tastes, and touches that calm stress. Read specific suggestions to soothe your senses.
10. Set aside time to feel your grief.
Carl Jung, a close follower of Sigmund Freud said, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.” Grief serves as the ultimate example of legitimate suffering. Remember to feel your feelings, recall the good and bad times, and understand the implications of your loss.
Failure to grieve can lead to neurosis (anxiety, depression, addictive behavior, or bad habits). It is easy to allow busy schedules to overshadow the grieving process, especially around the holiday season. Find time each week to experience your holiday grief and to find value in the process of suffering.
Although grief can be a challenging process at best, take care of yourself during this holiday season. Remind yourself frequently that there will come a time when you will strengthen your wings and be ready to fly again.
This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Jack Murray, a gifted writer who drew much inspiration from observing birds in his tree-lined backyard from his perch on his deck. See Jack’s website, Jack of All Words, Master of Words that Speak, to view a memorial tribute to his life and many of his best stories.
Jung Carl, Psychology and Religion. Yale University Press, 1938. Print.
Blog image is under license from Shutterstock.com.
Birds audio: 345852_hargissound spring birds loop with low cut New Jersey.
5 Replies to “Ease the Stress of Grief at the Holidays”
Thank you so much Jessica! This is all very helpful information.
Thank you, Sonia. Hope you are doing well.
Thanks Jessica…..very nice & helpful.
Take care always~
Thank you……very healthy advice.
Take care always~
This was a great one, thank you Jessica!