Grief can put us on the outside, looking in; stuck in a monochrome world of grays. From the outside, the holidays appear joyful, life-giving and full of family and friends. Many people experience the holidays just as they appear. For others, that joyfulness is witnessed, not experienced.
The holidays increase the intensity of grief via reminders of our loved ones or reminders of holidays gone by that were different, better. Our communities continue to celebrate with little acknowledgement of who and what is missing for us. Finding ourselves in the position of observer, the heightened focus on joy and happiness produces an opposite emotional experience for the outsider. While grief will require of us an enormous amount of energy to function in day-to-day activities, holiday grief requires so much more effort. An added struggle is the lack of understanding around the needs of grieving people at the holidays. There is an expectation that grieving people will continue on in the same manner they have done in prior years. This expectation can be experienced from family members, friends and the community. However, this expectation is also internalized. We often put expectations on ourselves related to holiday celebrations and fight our bodies natural desire to grief our loss.
Whether it is your first holiday season or your tenth, you may find yourself feeling like you are on the outside looking in. You may need something extra at this holiday season. if you are feeling the intensity of your grief more acutely this time of year, if you are wishing there was a fast-forward button for the holiday seasons, consider softening the experience by focusing on permission-giving.
Give yourself permission to grieve more fully, more acutely. You may want to punch me for saying that. You may be saying, "I don't need permission, grief takes me when it wants to." This is absolutely true. Grief will have its way in the middle of the night, first thing in the morning, in the middle of an important meeting or when we are stopped at a red light. Riding the waves of grief is exhausting, but is a skill that is slowly learned through the years of experiencing grief in its varying forms. When we refuse grief, push it down, turn the other way, attempt to block the waves, it will only continue to come, but we will be more exhausted for the effort of fighting it.
So, let the grief come. Let it come with its re-newed holiday sharpness. Let it come with its surprise attack. Let it come as it washes over and around us, filling our eyes, ears and nose, as it drowns out holiday joy.
Let us use our energy to weather the storm. Let us use our energy to brave the endless tears and deep sobs. Let us use our energy to feel the aching of our losses. Let use our energy to resist thoughts like, "I should be happy this time of year."
Let us give ourselves permission to:
1. Cry as much and as often as we need 2. Not go to the party 3. Not put out the decorations 4. Only put out some of the decorations 5. Not plan a big dinner 6. Not go to the service 7. Try a new tradition 8. Skip an old tradition 9. Set out an empty plate or chair 10. Sit at home and comfort ourselves
Whatever you decide to do or not to do, give yourself permission to not judge yourself for your need. And, since we still need to function at the holidays, do not leave out #10. Comforting ourselves is invaluable as we try to wade through daily routines and holiday expectations. Consider some of the following comforts as you put one foot in front of the other and make it to Spring.
1. Take a hot bath 2. Soak your feet 3. Light a candle (preferably lavender or peppermint for calming properties) 4. Mindfully lotion your feet/hands 5. Purposefully meditate or pray 6. Wrap up in a soft, warm blanket 7. Have a hot drink, like hot chocolate, cider or tea 8. Observe nature 9. Take a short walk 10. Start a small project that you can easily finish (clean a drawer, make a small craft, fix something that's broken, etc)
I am certain that these lists are only a fraction of the ideas you can come up with, as you allow you mind to wander over what specifically feels comforting and care-giving to you. Choose something small and do-able because we both know there is not much more energy left to give this time of year.