In the early afternoon of November 22, 1963, shots rang out in Dallas and America was forever changed. A nation lost its innocence. Citizens lost their president. And a young woman and her small children lost their husband and father. Thanksgiving was six days away. As the country paused to remember this tragic event on its 50th anniversary, many families are dealing with the grief of their own—more recent—losses.
While most families’ losses are not remotely as public as the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the anguish of loss is universal, and often subsequent holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries take on a painful hue. While many are cheerfully decorating, planning holiday meals, and selecting the perfect gift, people who have experienced a significant loss are trying to just make it through each day. Even those who have a bit more distance from the loss might find their wounds reopened as they face their first holiday season without their loved one. If you are grieving this holiday season, consider the following coping strategies.
First and foremost, allow your feelings to serve as cues for how you can make yourself most comfortable. Grieving is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. There is no one right way to do it. One person might feel like the holidays are just too much to deal with and choose not to participate in any festivities. Another might relish the idea of being surrounded by loved ones in a festive environment. Take some time to sit down and reflect on what you feel like you need. Try to put aside the idea of obligations you might feel to others and focus on what will make you most comfortable.
You may feel unsure about what your needs will be this holiday season. The idea of being with family may seem comforting, but what if a wave of grief rises up and makes you feel the need to retreat? Conversely, being alone and steering clear of celebrations might seem like a good idea, but what if you feel so alone you can’t tolerate it and wish you had accepted an invitation? If you’re plagued by these feelings of uncertainty, try to create options for yourself. Consider accepting an invitation, but let your host know that you are not sure you will be up to it and that you might need to cancel or make an early exit. If you give yourself the flexibility of multiple options, you are less likely to wind up feeling stuck in an uncomfortable situation.
Finally, grief tends to come in waves. That means that there are times, even just for moments, when it relents. Try to stay present in these moments and soak them in. Maybe for you, this moment will be watching the look of unadulterated glee as a child opens a special gift, or palpably feeling the love and support of your loved ones as you sit around the dinner table, or even the satisfaction of indulging in your favorite holiday treat. Whatever inspires a moment of joy, peace, or satisfaction, try to stay with it as long as possible. Allow it to really wash over you and permeate all parts of your being. You deserve these moments of relief, and as time goes on and your healing continues, there will be more and more of them, they will come closer and closer together, and they will stay for longer and longer.
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