By Gwendolyn L. Pettway, LLPC
Making strong and wise choices to manage your grief during the holidays will set the tone for the rest of the year. The holidays are often painful for grieving folks. Our society puts many demands on us, such as shopping for the perfect gift, decorating our homes and being (or acting) festive at gatherings. These demands are draining, even for those who are not grieving. When grieving people expend that kind of energy, they often end up with a deeper sense of sadness, fatigue and emptiness. Grieving people can discover a sense of peace and fulfillment in the midst of their grief by making the following choices:
- Choose to create your own holiday festivities. You are free to celebrate and you are free to not celebrate. Take time to think through what the holidays mean to you and what the holidays meant to the person who died. Trust your inner wisdom and strength to create experiences that work for you. For example, inviting a few people over for pie and coffee is much less draining than planning a full course holiday dinner.
- Choose to be honest about your feelings. Pretending, denying and covering up your feelings just prolongs the grief process. The sooner you can honestly own your hurt, anger, confusion and your fears the sooner you will feel that inner source of strength. Consider writing a letter or a poem to the person who died. You can also finish the following sentences; this can help you to identify and express some of the burdens you are carrying:
*My happiest memory of last holiday together is…
*This holiday will be difficult because…
*This is his how my family and I will spend this holiday…
*Without ___________________ this holiday will…
- Choose to help your children embrace their own grieving process. It is helpful to talk to children honestly and in words they understand. Sometimes children will more readily express themselves through artwork, such as drawings. Keep the process honest. Avoid common clichés that suggest that God somehow needed the deceased and so “took” him or her. Also avoid telling children that the deceased loved one is “asleep”. This often prompts children to expect the person to eventually wake up.
- Choose to express your grief with an appropriate support system. Consider joining a holiday grief support group. Talking with others provides a great source of information and relief. If needed, talk with your physician or pastor to get the extra help you need.
- Choose to care for your body. Consider these simple ways to care for yourself:
Take a long calming bath instead of a quick shower.
Slow down and take deep breaths to help relax and center your emotions.
Treat yourself to a manicure, a new haircut or new novel.
Get plenty of rest. A 20 minute nap in the middle of all the busyness can refresh you, calm you and promote a sense of feeling grounded. Sleep allows the body to renew itself. It also gives the mind rest from persistent and meddlesome thoughts.
Seasons of grief are often painful. However, when we make wise and strong choices, they can also be sacred seasons of transformation.