Many people believe that a cardinal heralds the presence of a deceased loved one, a comforting idea during the acute stage of grief. Learn ideas on how to cope with intense grief during the holidays.
Almost every person in mourning suffers their loss 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 images from TV movies and commercials. After all, this is a time of magical enchantment, warm family gatherings and brightly wrapped gift packages. But how do mourners feel joyful when their world has collapsed?
Grief expands beyond the experience of death. Many people grieve profound losses from unrealized dreams, childhood abuse, sexual assault, illness, disability, infertility or getting fired from a job. The exhaustion resulting from the grief process heightens with the social mandate of imposed cheerfulness at holiday events. If a mourner begs out of a social event for this reason, s(he) is often reprimanded for not “getting over” grief well. Of course, all this intensifies the experience of feeling alone. Here are a few suggestions to cope with the “jolly holiday season.”
- Create a special ritual to honor your loss.
A holiday ritual to honor a loved one can help to add meaning to the holiday and encourage the healthy expression of grief. Ideas include making a special ornament, photo collage, scrapbook of mementos, reading a loved one’s favorite poem or story, listening to a special song, cooking or baking a loved one’s favorite recipe to serve at a holiday event, planting flower seeds in an indoor pot. All of these rituals could be done alone or shared with supportive loved ones.
- Educate others about grief.
Grief, an elusive life experience, cannot be understood unless experienced. Those who have never experienced a significant life loss simply do not have the tools to understand what you feel. A significant loss often takes 2-3 years to mourn, with the second year often being more difficult than the first. Here is an article on grief to help educate others.
- Learn to say “NO!”
Grief saps a lot of energy. Therefore, conserve your resources by pursuing holiday events that hold meaning for you. Limit contact with insensitive people and simplify holiday chores and activities. When possible ask for help – especially with dreaded tasks like shopping or cleaning.
- 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. In fact, taking short breaks from grief helps to build stamina. Just take care not to overly avoid your grief.
- Engage in meaningful spiritual practice.
Death, like no other life event, often triggers 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 meaning in your loss.
- Set aside time to feel your grief.
Carl Jung, the prominent Swiss psychiatrist and close follower of Sigmund Fred said, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.” There is probably no more legitimate suffering than the active engagement in the grieving process (feel your feelings, recall the good and bad times, understand all the implications of your loss). Failure to grieve often paves the way to neurosis (anxiety, depression, addictive behavior or bad habits). It is easy to allow busy schedules, especially around the holiday season to overshadow the grieving process. Find time each day to focus on your grief experience.
Although grief can be a difficult process at best, take care of your needs during this holiday season. Remind yourself frequently that there will come a time when you will feel more whole, more fully alive again.
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