Dealing with Grief During the Holidays
The holiday season is often seen as the time of the year where we focus on the “bigger things” in our lives. It is during this time that we emphasize how thankful we are for the blessings that we have, and we prioritize spending time with our loved ones. We think of Christmas as a time of joy and celebration, full of Christmas carols, hot chocolate, presents, and decorations. And yet, for many, the holiday season can be one of the hardest times of the year because it reminds them of the loved ones that they have lost.
As we approach Christmas, a frenzy seems to take over. There’s an excitement in the air that you feel everywhere you go. But, for those who have lost loved ones, they’re often frustrated at how detached their experience is from how they perceive everyone else’s. If you’ve lost someone, the holidays can be the worst time of the year. You feel like everyone else is excited about Christmas, while all you can think about is the absence in your life. The loss of a parent, sibling, child, or other loved one means that holidays take on a new meaning – there can be apprehension, depression, resentment, or even anger. People range from feeling anxious about experiencing the holidays without their loved one to hating the holidays and everything about them.
So, if you are experiencing grief and are anxious about the holidays or you know someone who is in that situation, what can you do? Here are a couple things that may help you as you approach the holidays.
First, understand that grief is different for everyone. Many people have heard of the 5 stages of grief: denial, bargaining, depression, anger, and acceptance. But recognize that these stages aren’t a linear progression. That is, you aren’t going to necessarily move from one stage to another, and you definitely aren’t going to move at a consistent rate. Instead, you may skip a stage altogether, or fluctuate back-and-forth between stages. And, it’s completely normal of you are still experiencing moments of grief even years after a loss. That is what can make the holidays so tough. They bring back memories with our loved ones that seem to push us back to square one of the grieving process. So, if you get frustrated because you seem to have regressed, remind yourself that it is normal to move between stages of grief.
Second, if you are feeling angry towards others, recognize that this is a normal part of grief, but don’t let your anger isolate you. Sometimes it can be so maddening that others can be having such a seemingly good time during the holidays that a person experiencing grief will push others away during this time. They don’t want to be around other people because their experiences ofthe holidays are drastically different. While it is important to have time to be to yourself, it’s also important to seek out connection with others. Don’t let your grief turn you into a Scrooge who drives others away.
Third, if you know someone who is struggling through the holidays, be there for them. When a tragedy happens, people often say that they are unsure of what to tell their friends or family to support them through it. The truth of the matter is that there is nothing you can say to take away the pain of their loss. It would be naïve to think that there is some specific concoction of words that can absorb the intense pain of losing a loved one. Instead of focusing on what to say, focus on being present for your family member or friend. What they need more than anything is your presence and a listening ear to walk with them through their loss. Be intentional in your attempts to help them. Instead of giving open-ended offers like, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you,” find specific ways that you can help them. For example, you could call them and ask what day would be best for you to come and clean their house, or call them on the way to the grocery store and ask them what they need.
Finally, if you or a friend is experiencing deep grief, I would recommend finding a GriefShare group. These are groups of people who have all experienced loss and are walking alongside each other through it. You can find a group near you by going to their website www.griefshare.org.
Mischa McCray is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing in Greenwood, MS.