Coping With Grief During the Holidays

I have always loved Christmas. It’s an opportunity for me to spoil my family and friends with gifts and love and nothing makes me happier than getting to spend time, warm and cozy, with the people most important to me. But this year is going to be different. This year I’m dreading Christmas – and Thanksgiving, and the holiday season in general – because this is going to be the first year I have to celebrate without my mom

Her absence is like a hole in my heart.

While normally I would be making preparations, looking forward to all the expected joys, and really reveling in that part of year when I make extra special time for my family, this year all I can think about is how much I want to run away and hide. Hide from my feelings, from all the other happy families, and from everything in my life that’s going to remind me that my mom isn’t here. But I know I can’t do that. Running away from my feelings isn’t going to help me, and while this first holiday season is no doubt going to be the hardest, I have to accept that from now on I’m going to have to go through the holidays without her. I’m going to have to go through every day without her.

Talking about my feelings is tough, but to be perfectly honest – it helps. Holding them in not only causes me pain, but it keeps me from ever really processing my grief. Talking about them, and about her, hurts so much, but – for me, at least, and I imagine for many others – it’s a necessary step towards accepting that she’s gone and moving forward. I’ve done quite a bit of research into healing and how to handle my grief, so I wanted to share a little of what I’ve found. If you’re also going through a tough time this holiday season – or any time, really – after the death of a loved one, know that I understand and sympathize and I hope maybe this can help you like it has helped me.

It’s Okay if You’re Not Okay

This is something I have to repeat to myself pretty frequently. I even wrote it out in my planner to look at if I need to. It’s okay if I’m not okay – in fact, it’s totally normal. Everyone experiences grief differently, and some people may be able to accept a loss sooner than others. This does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that they did not care about the person or thing they lost. This can depend on any number of factors, and it won’t help anything to compare your own experience of grief to others’. If you’re not okay, don’t try to force yourself to be. Let yourself take the time you need. Sometimes the best way to move forward and process what happened is to acknowledge that this horrible thing happened, and that it has left a mark on you.

Feel Your Feelings

Grief can manifest in a number of different ways. You might be sad or depressed, angry, anxious, or even numb. And that’s okay! Let yourself feel those feelings, you don’t have to suppress them. You might have to step away or wait for a more appropriate moment to express those feelings, but you don’t have to shut yourself off. And it’s just as important to remember to let yourself feel good emotions, too. Oftentimes we get caught up in a spiral of guilt if we’re not sad enough. I know I’ve experienced this. I’ll have a good day, or just be enjoying something, and suddenly I’ll be hit with a wave of guilt: how dare I enjoy something when my mom is gone. But this is not helpful, and denying yourself positive feelings is only going to amplify the bad. If you have a support system that you’re spending your holidays with, be grateful for them, and enjoy every moment you can. Joy, laughter, happiness – not only are these good for you on their own, they can help combat the pain from your grief.

Be Prepared

Sometimes a reminder of our lost loved one can pop up out of nowhere, but there are some days – a birthday, for instance, or a holiday like Thanksgiving – where we know ahead of time things might be rough. In that case, try to prepare yourself for those feelings. Sometimes you might want to avoid situations that would any reminders of the person you’re missing, but sometimes you can’t. In those cases, being prepared can help you and can keep those feelings from being overwhelming.

Ask For Help

I’m very lucky that I have a lot of friends and family members who are there for me if I need them. If you have someone you can ask for help, and you need it, go ahead and ask them! The holidays, as wonderful as they can be, also have a bad habit of getting stressful. Sometimes you just need a break. Don’t be afraid to ask your loved ones to help you out or to understand if you just need to go take a quiet moment to yourself.

It’s very telling how we talk about grief. We don’t “conquer” it or “beat” it. We cope with it. The last of the stages of grief is acceptance. We might not overcome our grief, but we can learn to live with it. We can learn to think of the good memories instead of the pain. I don’t know how my holidays are going to go this year, but I know I’ll spend a lot of time thinking about my mother. I miss her, and I know I need to deal with those feelings, but I don’t want that to keep me from sharing memories of her with our family and making new memories with my daughter. Good luck to everyone else struggling. I see you, and I’m right there with you.

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