Are you trying to manage your way through a loss of someone special?
Have they passed away recently? Are the holidays a reminder of your loss even though it may have happened years ago? Are you struggling through the end of a relationship that feels like someone died?
As a professional counselor, as well as someone managing their way through the loss of a parent as well as a marriage, dealing with loss this time of year is especially challenging. Not that the rest of the year is easy - but more often than not, we had established holiday traditions, routines and rituals that included these loved ones and now we're struggling with the decisions of what to do instead, because of, to honor or to alleviate the emotional pain of experiencing the loss.
If you are the person experiencing the new loss - first be kind to yourself. Holidays come every year whether we want them to or not - so if you 'pass' this year on certain or even all of the 'celebrating' - do so without guilt. Everyone grieves differently and your way may not be understood by those around you - but don't sell out your own comfort to those who don't know you well. I encourage you to seek out at least one or two close, special, caring people in your life to stay connected with daily. The contact can be through texts, emails, phone calls or visits. Try your best to make at least one contact daily so that they know you are managing for the day. You don't have to extend yourself more than you are able to. Adjust the connection to your energy and emotional resources. If you feel exhausted from crying - connect through texts and emails. A quick share will help you as well - typing an email can be journaling - that is very therapeutic - and give life to the lost. Share openly what triggered your emotions - a memory, an object, an odor, a food, a situation. . . and encourage the receiver to do the same. Sharing stories, moments and even laughs gives meaning to the loss.
Try not to fear getting emotional. The experience is challenging physically, emotionally and mentally but it does settle down. For me, comparing it to dealing with waves of water. In the early days the waves are tidal or tsunami like. They can take our breath away and leave us depleted but they recede. The next experience may be high tide. The next a stormy day on the shore. As time passes they feel more like the shores of a lake - with a wake from a motor boat. But they all shift away - allowing us to regroup and move on through the day. Grieving is not constant. It does offer spaces of calm, serenity, of quiet stillness. Our desire to isolate and avoid brings that experience to our lives. It is a necessity to the process. Allow yourself to truly experience your loss - you will not drown, it will abate, it will give you peace. Avoiding it completely by staying too busy, working too hard or doing too much care taking will show up later -when it may actually blindside you or those around you. I see projected anger at unsuspecting others as how this is revealed.
If this happens to you - when you 'explode' in a situation -try to calm first - then share your difficulty and apologize for whatever was inappropriate.
What I have found is that when someone has just experienced a trauma or death - it makes everything after than seem insignificant. Suddenly you have clarity of what matters. You become an instant judge of what people around you should pay attention to and what is silly and insignificant. With this rawness you may lash out, say something critical, come across as judgmental or spew angry words in your determination to set things straight. It can be witnessing a couple arguing or bickering in public as your managing the loss of a spouse. It may be scolding a child for fighting over a toy - when you just lost your own parent. It may be physical violence that becomes uncontrolled when you witness someone fighting over money or 'stuff.' You may have been brewing in the anger for hours before - then a subtle or seeming harmless event or comment brings it full barrels loaded - to the forefront and your audience is left blindsided by your over-reaction. It happens. You are not 'crazy' but you are accountable for what you said or did that was hurtful or inappropriate - you need to return to that person and acknowledge what and where you went wrong. Even though you may feel entitled to a break down - you are not entitled to hurt anyone with your behavior or words. Explaining where your frustration and hurt come from will help re-establish the relationship. Hurt people hurt people. Understand how that occurred.
If you are going to visit family or friends who have experienced a loss - and this is their first year of having to negotiate their way through these weeks allow for lots of mistakes, forgotten things, frustrations, tears, sadness and yes laughs. Those who passed may have been the 'joker' of the family and now that element is obviously missing. Inject external humor - share funny emails, watch comedy TV and movies, share funny stories - grieving is about sharing and honoring the deceased whole life - celebrate their best - their fun - their kindnesses. Share their life stories - not their 'death day' - celebrate what they brought to lives - less about what stopped with their absence. This can also be true when divorce hits a family - the 'ex' may have added an element that is now missed - try to find new ways to make up for the loss.
If you are the significant other of the person lost - share with those you feel safest - what you prefer in each event. We can't read minds and wrong assumptions come from other's experiences rather than your own - so communicate clearly as you can - even if in writing- emails - texts - of what you can and can't handle. If you're okay for seeing close family - alert them - especially if they want to or are used to very large gatherings of neighbors, friends, co-workers - arrange a time when you can get a visit in before or after the 'crowd' has formed. You do NOT have attend everything and you can adjust to focus on the specific situation for what is important to you. Focus on the meaning or reason for the event - not the 'junk' that gets thrown in. If church attendance is important - prioritize it - get assistance so that it happens -not lost in everyone else's demands.
Monitor alcohol consumption. The grieving person may use alcohol to bolster confidence, ease anxiety, cushion sadness. It does NOT take away the difficulty of the emotions of loss - it masks it. Stay aware of your consumption - space drinks with water - chose beverages that allow sipping rather than gulping. If you find that its challenging to stop once started - limit opportunities to drink - talk to a professional and surround yourself with those you know who don't or can't drink. There are plenty of them. If your drinking increases beyond what you plan - allow others to provide rides and a room to stay overnight. Don't add to holiday tragedies by being irresponsible yourself. If it becomes necessary to be 'babysat' when you drink - get help - a social drinker doesn't drink to impairment. Drinking doesn't take it away as long as you think and for too many - it makes it worse. People have long memories when it comes to someone who doesn't handle their alcohol well. Don't gain a 'bad reputation' along with your grieving or loss.
Honor your loss rather than avoid it. Savor the good memories. Tears mean they were important and cherished. Laughs don't discount seriousness, they relieve stress of the loss. Don't isolate completely -share more openly - talking about a person gives them significance. Too often families become afraid to share - fearing that someone might be emotional - when they may actually be festering with anger that no one is acknowledging the deceased. Give significance to their life - not death - through memorials, journals, scrapbooks, photo displays, charitable giving, donations, volunteering. Make their life visible - with donated items that honor them.
Take one day at a time - and start with one moment. The most emotional moments do 'pass' - and you can move through them and find the next stepping stone to moving through the loss. There is light at the end of the tunnel - reach out - don't do it alone. No one gets through life without death - it is the universal feeling we all share - throughout the entire world.