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I am no stranger to death. Over the past few years, I have lost loved ones, as well as been witness as my loved ones lose, so daringly close to Christmas. It certainly weaves a new perspective on the celebrations- showing me how trivial the consumption of plastic objects is. It seems like every year, we miss the mark as to what is really important around this time, funneling all of our energy into shopping for that “special someone” instead of just being with that special someone.
Grieving just really sucks.
And it really sucks during the holidays- people are absorbed in traditions and the TV is oozing with holiday deals; even social media and the blogosphere is crammed with craft ideas and holiday recipes. Everyone just appears to super happy, doing super happy things, living super happy lives.
All of this can be so depressing for a grieving person.
While other families are enjoying each other, you may be wondering why yours has to be broken. This feeling of hopelessness can have you wondering how you are going to get through this.
There have been Christmases where I have just wanted to curl up in my bed and numb myself to the world, with a bottle in my grasp and call it a day.
There have been plenty of times when I’ve chosen a similar option, only I’ve kept myself out of bed and used substance as a crutch and a distraction. I’m here to tell you that while it may appear that you’re fixing yourself, you’re really not. You’re actually causing yourself more pain and more grief in the long run.
I remember it was particularly hard on December 25th, 2012. It was the first Christmas in years that my brother-in-law, Doug, had not been to my house, because he took his own life a few months before. I thought about our last year together as a family, when my husband and I played Monopoly Deal with him at the table- he smugly conquered the game, while I playfully called him a cheater. And then I laughed because I was so content, with a baby growing in my belly and everything falling so perfectly into place. We listened to Scott Weiland sing Christmas songs and Doug told me I could keep the album. It was a great finale.
*Update: Sadly, one day after this article was posted, Scott Weiland passed away.
And yet, here I was, a year later, with a growing baby boy and two little girls, trying to pick up the pieces and numb myself, while still making Christmas the magical day it should be for little ones. There was a roller coaster of emotions as I celebrated my baby’s first Christmas while longing for the last.
I did cave and reach for a bottle that year, because at the time, I didn’t know that there was a better way to grieve. All I knew was that it hurt, and I didn’t want to be in pain…not today.
But that drink, you see it rolls itself into a giant snowball and then you find yourself with more problems than you started with.
It wasn’t the answer…numbing is never the answer…
My dad told me that once you go through a whole year without a person, that it gets easier. Once you get through that first Christmas, New Years, birthdays, anniversaries, and seasons…the pain doesn’t magically disappear, but it does become more manageable after that. You experience what it is like to live this new normal, and you become used to it after a while.
But “surviving” the holidays, and the first year, is only one step. You have to allow yourself the space to work through your grief. You know you have worked through your losses when you can think back and not be riddled with pain. You can observe it and move forward without rehashing old feelings. Furthermore, part of completing your grief is completing your relationships with people you have lost, which is something I learned from reading “The Grief Recovery Handbook.” Truly that was a life-saver for me.
How to Survive Grief Through the Holidays
If you are grieving right now, I want to tell you that I’m sorry. It’s not easy to deal with death, but please know that you will make it through this! If you are dreading Christmas or you just don’t know how to deal with your emotions right now, please keep the following in mind:
- Touch base with yourself daily– ask yourself how you are feeling each day and journal about it if possible. Sometimes just writing things down can help release the pain. You don’t have to show anyone, nor does it need to make sense to be therapeutic.
- Remember that there are no stages of grief– contrary to popular belief, there are actually no stages of the grieving process. Release yourself from the feeling that you should be further along or farther behind on your path to healing.
- Honor the person you lost and acknowledge them on the holiday– many people close up and do not speak about a lost loved one, and instead, suffer inside their heads because of it. By taking a few minutes to remember and speak about the person, you are giving yourself permission to express your feelings. You are more likely to have a good day because you allowed yourself the room to do that.
- Get support– working through death alone is hard. It is so much better when we have support. Pick up the “The Grief Recovery Handbook” (it’s cheaper than therapy, and it really works!), and team up with a friend or family member. I cannot even begin to tell you the transformation that took place for me while reading this book. It changed the way I grieve, and I will be better prepared for death in the future!
- Open yourself to love– look around you and remember to be present for the living! We never know how long we have with the people we care about, so please be thankful for your friends and family. Tune into the positives of the holiday, and celebrate, because YOU ARE ALIVE!!!!
On Christmas morning, I take a moment to reflect on those I have lost over the years, and I give thanks to God for placing them in my life, even if it was only for a short time. I give thanks for a day with the family I still have, and I cherish this time, because we don’t know how much time we have on earth. I hug my kids close and I snuggle with my husband and I laugh- I laugh because it is medicine for my soul. And I hold this love in my heart, letting it radiate outwards and up to the heavens, where I know one day we will meet once again.
In this life or the next…