During this “season of giving,” how do we deal with the grief, sorrow, and pain of loss? The demands of the holiday season can often result in increased stress levels for people who aren’t dealing with some kind of loss in their lives, whether it be the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, or the death of a loved one. For those dealing with loss, the usual stress may be compounded.
The social construction of the holiday season tells us we are supposed to be happy, enjoying the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, going to parties, and spending joyous time with friends and family. There is a lot of pressure even in a “normal” year to conform to social constructions of what the holidays should look like. But how can the holidays look and feel the same when one’s life may look totally different than in years past? There is also the question of how holiday traditions should be honored, especially if those traditions shine light on the ever-so-present source of sorrow and pain.
It may seem unfathomable to carry on with the holidays. You may want to hide until the cheers of the new year cease. This is understandable. The most important piece of advice for getting though it may be this: define how you want to experience the holidays in the wake of your loss and amid the sorrow. Give yourself permission to say no. Give yourself permission to do things differently. With all the social pressure to be happy or merry, give yourself permission to be sad. Grief, loss, and sorrow need to be experienced to be processed in order to heal. People experience grief and loss in different ways and on their own time frames. There is no “right” way to process loss.
When considering whether to attend holiday parties, social engagements, or even a traditional holiday dinner, keep in mind that it is okay to say no. Really, it is. People may be disappointed, but they will understand.
Though traditions may be too difficult to practice or celebrate, it is important to consider whether the void created by not celebrating any given tradition will be more painful than celebrating a cherished tradition. Some traditions can serve to honor a missed loved one and be a source of comfort. New traditions may serve to define a new start. Creating new traditions can be just as important and comforting as practicing old and cherished ones.
When considering whether to attend holiday parties, social engagements, or even a traditional holiday dinner, keep in mind that it is okay to say no. Really, it is. People may be disappointed, but they will understand. Regardless of the context of your loss, giving yourself permission to say no to social engagements may alleviate stress that could be exacerbated by attending out of a sense of obligation. Then again, isolation tends to fuel sadness, so if going to a social event here and there gives you a break from sadness, you may want to consider going. As you process your grief, it is important to put yourself and your healing first.
Embracing your loved ones, whether it be friends, family, or friends you consider family, can be a source of great comfort. Let those who love you comfort you during this difficult time of loss or sorrow. If you are grieving the death of a loved one, you might want to consider celebrating the loved one you lost. Remember them. Cry because you miss them. Laugh through tears at funny and cherished memories. It can all help heal your heart.
Don’t feel like you have to function “normally” when you haven’t even defined what the new normal is on a typical day, much less during the holidays. However you decide to define your holiday season while dealing with loss, kick comparison and expectations to the curb and take care of your heart.
This article is dedicated to a very special angel. “Banana” misses you, sweet girl!
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