Coping with the Holidays
“The 12 gifts you give yourself this Holiday Season”
Loss creates a new set of circumstances in which we must live, and the ways we handle them are as individual as we are.
To help you on a practical level, we would like to offer you these “Twelve Gifts”. These are not material things, but rather, gifts of reflection and adaptation.
We encourage you to give yourself these gifts, because they will help you be in sync with both the darkness and light this holiday season.
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The Gift of Organization
This Holiday Season will be different, and we know it helps to make plans for the special days so you have a better sense of control. Where will you spend them, and who will you spend them with? Planning helps you to feel more organized. Who will carry out the holiday tasks normally handled by the person who died? Gather together to talk about how your family will re-distribute essential holiday chores: Shopping, wrapping gifts, decorating, cooking and baking, putting up a tree. Perhaps you can create a shopping list that someone else can do for you. Try to avoid malls if you can, they’re too busy and confusing. Shop on-line or try gift certificates instead. Keep the traditions that mean the most to you and set the others aside for now.
Get out your January calendar and make plans for something special. Having something to look forward to helps to decrease the aftermath of sadness of the holidays and keeps your energy up.
The Gift of Compromise
There can be a lot of pressures and demands placed on us during the holiday season. It helps to be able to modify these demands through the gift of compromise. Compromise helps your family move from what was, to what will be. When planning for the holidays, talk to your friends and family and brainstorm ideas for new holiday traditions that honour the person who died. You may want to purchase a special ornament for the tree that symbolizes your loved one. Or hang a stocking and invite everyone to stuff it with their favourite memories of that person, to be read later. Trim down to essentials. Maybe a wreath on the door is all you can muster this year. Or consider fresh branches on your table with a few special decorations instead of a tree. Re-evaluate your priorities, and forego unnecessary activities and obligations. It is okay to purchase your holiday baking this year, and to skip the Christmas cards, office or neighbourhood parties. Christmas dinner may be at a restaurant this year or buffet style pot luck instead of the traditional sit down dinner. You get the idea. Compromise, and above all do what feels right for you.
The Gift of Allowing
Through the gift of allowing, we give ourselves permission to do what is right for us. This includes experiencing a variety of thoughts and feelings. This is normal and healthy. Our feelings will come and go like the play of light and dark throughout the day. A common fear is to allow joy during this mourning period. Experiencing moments of happiness during the Holidays does not mean you did not deeply love the person who died. It means you are alive and can continue to live. It is most important to remember is that it is not pain and sorrow that connect you to your loved one. It is love. When your loves one died he or she left you with a legacy of love and joy.
The Gift of Tolerance
As well- meaning as they may be, at some point in our grief journey people will say and do the wrong things. Comments like; “Why can’t you come to our party- You’re not like your old self”. “When are you going to change that message on your answering machine?” or “So you’re not putting up a tree? Nonsense! I’ll come and put it up for you!” These kinds of comments come from a misunderstanding of the grief process. Grief is a process, not an event. It may take longer than you or anyone thinks. Many people try to cheerlead us out of our grief, or give lots of advice, not realizing we have to move at our own pace. So take a deep breath, in your mind forgive, and thank friends and family for their concern. Then, just do what is right for you. Giving ourselves the gift of tolerance, can help us weather the stresses that arise in our relationships, and can guide us toward teaching others to meet us where we are.
The Gift of Honesty
With so many pressures and expectations swirling around us during holiday season, we need to be truthful and frank with ourselves about our needs, our energy level, and our limits. We should not feel compelled to produce explanations for why we are unable to join in all the festivities this year, but realistically, we need to say something. People around you may not understand what you need. So tell them. If hearing your loved one’s name spoken aloud by others feels good, say so. If you are too exhausted to go out, need more time alone, assistance with chores you’re unable to complete, or an occasional hug, be honest and say so. If you can be honest about your thoughts and feelings, you may open the door for others to express their caring and compassion.
The Gift of Balance
Loss requires we live in a delicate tension between darkness and light, between being and doing, grieving and living. Finding equilibrium again takes time and gives us a deepening awareness of ourselves as we slowly adjust to our loss. When we have been extremely busy – to the point of exhaustion, or feeling lethargic and isolating ourselves too much, we know we have not been practicing good self-care. Sometimes we just need to look around us at nature to point the way to self-awareness and balance again. For example, Light and dark must always be in balance. We know without the light nothing could live or grow. Without night, we would have no day, no chance to rest, rejuvenate and sleep. The ebb and flow of the tides remind us of the ebb and flow of our feelings ; From sorrowful to hopeful , and back again, and our energies;
Practicing staying in balance over the holidays will help us feel grounded, and give us a healthy head start to the New Year.
The Gift of Gratitude
Gratitude is not a response to the good things of life. It is a state in which we live. As we move through our grief this holiday season, it can help us to reflect on one thing each day to be grateful for. It is healing to cultivate feelings of thankfulness and appreciation for those who help and comfort us, and for what we have not lost; the love of friends and family. The ability to cherish the memories of your loved one’s expert turkey carving, off the charts baking, or ability to make it all look so fabulous.
Remembering and honouring the good times spent together over the years helps us feel gratitude for all our loved ones shared in our life. Thomas Attig says we need to learn to love in separation, reflecting on the best qualities of our relationships and keeping them alive. Our loved ones give us their legacies, and we give them places in our hearts.
The Gift of Compassion
Throughout your grief journey, but especially over the holiday season, be compassionate with yourself. Don’t judge yourself for crying too much, or set your expectations too high. This is not the time to be strong, it is the time to be human. Your grief is legitimate. Be kind and patient with yourself. This time of year is overwhelming enough without the added heaviness of grief. Show yourself some loving- kindness. It is loving-kindness that you are missing from your loved one right now. And you may be finding it very difficult to turn some of this toward yourself. Let your holiday grief be what it is, and instead of thinking about all the things you have to do this Holiday, think of who you are doing them for! Begin by extending compassion and loving-kindness towards all you care for and come in contact with; family, friends, co-workers and pets, even strangers in the check-out line!
Focusing on the needs and well-being of others gives us a purpose, and since what goes around comes around, it won’t be long before kindness comes back to you.
The Gift of Ritual
We create holiday rituals because everyday activities and normal conversation cannot capture our most profound thoughts and feelings. Rituals give them voice, and shape. So we decorate our Christmas tree, light our menorahs, give gifts, hold hands, and say prayers. What words could we possibly utter that would express our feelings at these moments? During your time of grief the very rituals of the holidays can help you survive them. Try participating in some of your normal holiday traditions, but with a focus on your grief. When you light candles in your home, do it in honour of the person who died. You might also want to create a special holiday ceremony or private ritual in memory of the person who died to bring them into the festivities and connect to them in your heart. You can leave an empty chair at the table, make a toast and invite the sharing of memories. Remember the gift of ritual as one path to a meaningful Holiday. It helps to create meaning out of chaos.
The Gift of Stillness
We are advised to keep busy by our culture, accept every invitation, thereby distracting ourselves from our grief. But busyness and exhaustion can sabotage healing. Spend time with family and friends, but also spend time with yourself. Learn to be still for a few minutes each day. Learn to cultivate the ability to just be with what is going on in your life right now. Right at this moment. Allow yourself to enter stillness and listen for inner guidance, because this is the place from which “what to do next” comes. Take some quiet moments to watch the snowfall or the moonlight, or the fireplace or candle flame. In the weeks ahead, look for the quiet moments and consider the light within.
The Gift of Hope
The Holiday season is about the return of the light at the darkest time of the year. It signifies and symbolizes the hope of re-birth in the land and in ourselves. It can be a time of looking back and looking forward. As the winter Solstice approaches, thinking about the return of the light can give us hope on our longest darkest days. Our hope to get through the holidays, our hope to manage our grief. Our hope may not be very strong at first, but like the sun which is right now at its weakest point, we know given time, it will grow. In this sense the connection of our hope to the strength of the returning light can also be a reminder of the light of our healing, and the light of the spirit of those who are no longer with us in form. They live in our hearts now, strengthening our hope of building a new connection, a new relationship , as a light that will never die.
The Gift of Grief
The holidays will be different this year in part because you are different. Your holiday self has changed.
Try to honour what makes you human. Feelings are not right or wrong, feelings are an expression of you. Try not to cancel out your expression of sorrow because in so doing you will cancel out the opportunity to feel joy from the love of family and the caring that surrounds you.
Perhaps the formula this Holiday is about ways to honour your sadness, and welcome levels of gratefulness. You don’t have to hide your feelings and your tears all the time. For instance, putting stocking stuffer size Kleenex packages at each place setting invites tears as well as memories at the table. And often it isn’t until we have expressed our feelings that we can truly enjoy the flavours of the turkey. There is a paradox in grief; In remembering we feel the pain, and yet, through remembering we open the door for a re-connection.
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