The Christmas season is usually considered a joyous one for the love that is more openly expressed through giving gifts and spending time with the people who matter the most to us. But if you’ve lost someone you love this year, through death or broken relationship, you may be feeling a little lost as the season progresses. Your yearly routines may be interrupted by the loss of another’s role, leaving you scrambling to fill the hole that they left. You might even feel like you are regressing in your grief. Some of you may even ignore the season all together to avoid the hurt and confusion.
First, let me say, you are not alone in your pain. Unfortunately, we live in a broken world where the pain of death and broken relationship is all too real to so many. Let me encourage you to share your pain with a healthy and supportive friend or join a local support group such as Grief Share if it is available. If you cannot find a local support group or share with a friend, please consider processing your pain with a counselor, so that your life continues in a healthy direction.
Second, let me express that grieving, especially during this season, is normal and healthy. While getting stuck in grief or a stage of grief is not healthy, remembering and reminiscing precious times with a lost loved one is expected.
How do you identify if you are getting stuck in your grief?
Counselors generally look at Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief. I prefer to call them the five “phases” of grief, because these emotions do not always occur in a linear fashion (one after another until someone reaches acceptance). A person could feel denial in the morning, acceptance at lunch, depression at dinner, and anger at night. It simply depends on the day, its stressors and down time; and you, your personality, and coping skills. Ask yourself two questions about the first 4 of the following phases: 1) Is this emotion disrupting my ability to function normally through daily life? 2) Have I been feeling this way for 2 weeks or longer? If your answer is yes to either, please contact a counselor.
1. Denial- shock, disbelief, mental knowledge without acceptance into the belief system
2. Anger- general anger, anger towards the situation, anger towards the person, anger towards other people involved, anger towards self
3. Depression- general sadness, sometimes preventing someone from the ability to function normally throughout the day (getting out of bed, practicing personal hygiene, attending work/school). If this behavior lasts more than 2 weeks, it is imperative to see a counselor and/or doctor. If this is coupled with thoughts of suicide, tell someone supportive and see a doctor immediately. You can find the suicide hotline number at the bottom of this page.
4. Bargaining- many times this includes thoughts that begin with “if only I/she/he/we had…”, sometimes this is a bargaining with God to bring them back, sometimes this is bargaining with the other person in the broken relationship to come back
5. Acceptance- the ability to find a new normal and move forward with your life.
What are some things you can do to try to enjoy the season?
While you might struggle with the thought of your future life without your loved one, the traditions of the holidays bring a unique opportunity for you to celebrate the gift of life that you have been given by working toward creating your new normal. Here are some ideas to consider:
Start new traditions- take a supportive friend or another loved one to do something you have dreamed of doing. If you have always wanted to stay in a cabin in the mountain snow, but couldn’t go due to the health concerns of your lost loved one, invite someone supportive to join you for a weekend away.
Serve the community- volunteer your time or donate money to a meaningful charity (i.e. give to orphans if you lost a child, cancer patients if you lost someone to cancer, charities that interested your lost loved one). You could also ask supportive friend or loved one to go with you if you choose to give your time.
Share fond memories with mutual loved ones or supportive friends over your favorite warm beverage- Create a moment that warms your heart as you laugh and cry together over the sweet memories of your loved one.
Invite loved ones or supportive friends to join you in old traditions- If you like to hang lights on your house, but need a spare set of helping hands to accomplish it, invite a friend or loved one over to help. If you enjoy making a big meal for your celebration, invite people over to enjoy it with you or ask if you can bring it to their gathering.
Make sure to set aside time to grieve this holiday season, but limit your time by making plans to see someone. That way you get your time to cry, but you set up accountability to prevent getting stuck or falling into a deep depression through the season. Do not spend the holidays alone. Make plans.
If you feel that you are stuck in the grief process, having trouble navigating, or if the grief is too strong or deep, please contact a counselor to help you process through your pain.