Grieving through the holidays

Posted on December 2, 2016 by Errol Castens under Grief, People
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The first holiday season after the death of a loved one is almost universally one of the hardest hurdles in mourning.

That fact is simple to understand: We invest both Thanksgiving and Christmas with so much personal and family tradition – not to mention cultural expectation – that one person’s permanent absence may well make celebrating seem anything from merely difficult to agonizing.

One starting point for everyone suffering loss is to acknowledge that the holidays will be both different and difficult this time around. The “different” part is permanent; mercifully, the “difficult” part will likely ease with time.

If decorations are too much trouble, skip them this year and know it’s OK. Same thing with gifts. Others’ expectations must submit to your capabilities.

Grief makes us fragile at times. A quote from the opening of C.S. Lewis’ notebook, A Grief Observed, written after his wife’s death, illustrates this:

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.

For some, celebrating the holidays while actively mourning may be a hurdle too high to cross. Normally joyful sounds, in the emotional fragility Lewis addressed, can become a bothersome din. Enduring parties, concerts and other formerly enjoyable events morphs into the hard work of wearing a happy face over a broken heart.

Even large family gatherings may further stretch already overtaxed emotions. Constant reminders of a loved one’s permanent absence – his customary place at the table, her favorite decorations on display (or their absence), that funny little tradition shared with only him or her – can be too much to handle soon after their death.

If that’s your situation, graciously decline most invitations and don’t feel guilty. Even escaping to a resort area is helpful to some nuclear families so they can both grieve and celebrate on their own terms – especially if the death they are mourning coincided too closely with either Thanksgiving or Christmas.

On the other hand, guard against falling into seclusion as a habit. Each person’s and family’s grief is unique but not exclusive. You may be part of other people’s healing just as they are part of yours.

There aren’t any easy answers for mourning – especially through Christmas – but here we share several suggestions we hear over and over:

• Go easy on alcohol. A customary glass of wine, under the pressure of grief, can become several before you realize it.
• Others will want to help but may not know what you need. Telling them will be an act of kindness to you both.
• Be good to yourself, even when you don’t want to. Eat, rest, and exercise in balance. Don’t neglect taking medications and going to clinical appointments.
• Weep when you need to, whether you’re at a party or on the soap aisle at the grocery store.

Aftercare coordinator, Coleman Funeral Home of Oxford/Olive Branch

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