The Holidays are a time of cheer and celebration, an annual milestone which we mark the passage of time from one year to the next. We celebrate with parties and gifts, food and fellowship. For those who have lost a loved one, the holidays take on a more somber tone, and grief can come quickly and drain the joy out of this most festive time of year.
It’s OK to not be OK.
It has been 15 years since my mother and I shared a Christmas together. This year will be the third without my father and I’ll tell you, it is still hard. My children lost their father this year and as the holiday season approached, I have seen their grief unfold in a million small ways since Thanksgiving. As much as I wish I could lift the sadness from their hearts, I know that grieving is a process and the holiday season often heightens these feelings. So what can we do to ease the pain of loss for those struggling with grief? The short answer is nothing. Grief is different for everyone, and everyone must work through it in their own way.
The gift we can give those who are struggling with grief is to understand the process. Most of us have suffered loss, so we know how overwhelming it can be at times. Sometimes it shows up as sadness, other times it is anger. Both reactions are natural and necessary for the healing process. The year my dad died I heard a lot along the lines of “Cheer up! It’s Christmas” by many well meaning souls. My immediate reaction was almost always anger and indignation. I needed to feel sad, I needed to acknowledge my loss. It takes some awareness to help others move through those difficult moments, but by simply allowing others to express their sadness or anger without judgement or advice goes a long way.
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on”
You can’t hide from grief, it is something that must be walked through. Helping others be proactive about that process can help restore a sense of control over our heightened emotions. Starting a new tradition while celebrating some old ones are a great way to bridge the difficult gap between what was and what is. For me, this includes an annual pilgrimage of sorts to my childhood homestead. It has become a way for me to accept that life goes on, while honoring my elders and their role in my life. Some honor their loss by adding an empty chair at the table to acknowledge those who are no longer with us. Gathering photos and spending time sharing memories is another healthy way to work through our pain. You may want to make a special ornament for the tree, or make a charitable donation in a loved one’s memory. Looking forward to the next generation is another very helpful tool in working through loss. Somehow knowing our loved ones live on through ourselves and our children goes a long way toward finding some peace with our losses.
As we move through the final stretch of Holiday celebrations, remember to be aware of the difficulty for those in our lives who are in the midst of grieving.
The greatest gifts we can give them is our compassion, our support and our hearts. Be patient and kind and let them know that it really is OK to not be OK.
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