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 during the holidays.
Grief extends beyond the experience of losing a loved one to death. Often people grieve 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.
Mourners usually suffer their losses more acutely 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 grieving people feel joyful when their worlds have collapsed?
Grief-related exhaustion heightens with the social mandate of imposed cheerfulness at holiday events. Often, mourners who beg out of social events face criticism for not getting over their grief quickly enough. These societal pressures intensify the experience of feeling alone.
Click the arrow below to listen to soothing sounds of birds chirping as you read ideas on coping with holiday grief.
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 loss often takes 2-3 years to mourn, with the second year being more painful than the first. Those who have never experienced a profound loss usually lack the tools to understand 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. When possible, ask for help – especially with dreaded tasks like shopping or cleaning.
4. Allow yourself to 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. Find time to feather your nest with comforting down pillows and rest peacefully. Take care to avoid numbing your holiday grief with excessive shopping, eating, or alcohol.
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.
6. Modify your expectations.
So often, mourners 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 wellbeing.
8. Reach out to others.
Find supportive people with whom you can share your holiday grief. A wonderful resource is GriefShare, a structured support group offered at many churches throughout the US. There is even a special program on Surviving the Holidays. Remember that birds of a feather flock together, especially during grief.
9. 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.
Although grief can be a difficult 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 of his life along with 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.