The Christmas and New Year’s season can be a difficult time of year to begin with. We can feel crushed under the pressures, perceptions, and messages of how things ‘should be’, all mixed in with memories and disappointments from the past. And add to that the fact it’s practically pitch dark by 4:00pm, and nearly every day seems to be rainy and gloomy lately. People struggle… many, more people than you may think.
I’ve heard from quite a few people that 2016 was a particularly difficult year; and I personally have to agree with them (in my own biased opinion!). For me, and for some of my friends and family, this was a year of painful loss – so I find myself grieving, and preparing to follow my own advice as we move towards the holidays.
For those of us who have lost a loved one this year, the holidays (especially the first holiday season after they’ve passed) can be very difficult. Often just the anticipation of the Christmas season can leave us feeling sad or anxious. People respond to holiday grief in different ways, for some they try to completely ignore the holidays all together, “I’m just gonna skip them this year”; for others they may go a little (or a lot) heavier on the egg-nog than usual!
So here are 6 things to do to help you get through the holidays when you’re grieving… (without ending up with a hangover that lasts a whole week):
1> Be realistic.
I would say this is standard advice for every day of the year, but especially the holidays, and even more so when it’s the holidays and you’re grieving. Check your expectations, and be prepared to lower them! Let go of finding the ‘perfect Christmas present’ and having the ‘perfect’ Rockwell-painting / Martha Stewart Christmas gathering.
Be realistic about your energy levels, be realistic about your stress levels, and be realistic about what really needs to get done. The ribbons on the candy canes, do not have to match the napkins on the table, the cookies and cakes do not need to be made from scratch the night before, the house does not need to be the ‘best decorated house on the block’….
2> Keep it light.
Being realistic leads to keeping things ‘light’.. no big, heavy, decisions or commitments. Now is not the time to choose to host dinner for your entire family, and your in-laws. Now is not the time to set yourself up to make major life changes (especially if you’re going to make it a ‘New Year’s Resolution’!). Your first priority needs to be ‘less stress’.
3> Find the alone time vs social life balance.
It’s important to take it easy, and take time for yourself – but don’t isolate yourself. Locking yourself up in your room and away from the things you love, and those who care about you is not helpful (and most likely the last thing your loved one would have wanted you to put yourself through).
Being around people is important, but don’t overdo it with social commitments. Trying to force yourself to be the ‘life of the party’, and being swamped busy with social commitments is going to exhaust you and leave you more emotionally vulnerable.
So find the balance. Take your alone time when you need it; and don’t be scared to say ‘no’ to some of the Christmas parties. However, don’t say no to everything. Stay connected with friends, do things that you enjoy,or the things you used to enjoy. (If your mood is low it may be hard to get excited about things). It’s best to spend time with the people in your life who you trust, who know about your loss, and who are going to understand.
4> Let them help.
A big part of being around people who understand, is that many of them want to help – but often don’t know how. So tell them how they can help. Often people will try to ‘cheer you up’ – and sometimes this works, but rarely simply because they don’t know what you need, or what to say. Tell the people in your life when you need them to ‘just listen’. You may need to tell them that you don’t need them to try to ‘fix’ as there is nothing that can be fixed. If you need someone to take over a task for you, just ask. Yes people are busy this time of year, but you may be surprised with how eager people are to help when they know you are suffering.
5> Let it show –up.
Be it an emotion or a memory, let it show up. Don’t try to block out memories of your loved one, let the memory and the emotion come. Not only is it an opportunity to honor them, but your also allowing yourself to naturally process your grief. Stuffing it down and trying to avoid it can just complicate things. Those memories and emotions won’t go away, they just build up and then bubble up at a later time… usually feeling much stronger and taking much longer to process.
So if sadness shows up.. let yourself feel sad. It’s ok.. even at Christmas.
6> Remember them.
Do something to remember and honor your loved one. Even something as simple as going through some old pictures, or making yourself that beverage that was their favourite, or visiting a restaurant that they used to go to, or listening to music they loved, or wrapping yourself up in a blanket or sweater they had or that they gave you, or light a candle, or even buy a special ornament that reminds you of them. It doesn’t need to be (nor should it be) a big elaborate, stressful event. Keep it small, keep it meaningful to YOU.
I want to remind you that feeling sad when you have lost someone important in your life is normal. The Christmas and New Year’s holidays do not magically erase the grief and sadness… no matter how much you want them to!
Queen Elizabeth said “grief is the price we pay for love”.. and she was right.
Joy Sereda is an ACT therapist, a Registered Clinical Counsellor, a Registered Social Worker, and the Clinical Director of the Summit Counselling Group. You can read more about Joy, and all of the Summit counsellors on their bio pages.
Summit Counselling Group is made up of six, professional, and compassionate Registered Clinical Counsellors. We work with individuals, couples, adults, children, adolescents, and families from our West Broadway office located in beautiful Vancouver, B.C.