For those experiencing sorrow—whether through death, separation, divorce, illness, job loss or relocation—the glittering commercialism and unrelenting cheer of the holiday season can be stressful.
Facing any holiday or special occasion with an empty chair at the table can make unbearable grief so much worse, says Karen Silbert, MD, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, who suffered the loss of her five-month-old daughter.
Many people believe that anyone who has experienced great loss should be “over it” in six months or so. If only that were true. Emotions of the bereaved can be terribly raw. It can be difficult for them to cope in social situations during the holidays, when tears would be out of place, Silbert says.
At holiday time, many who are dealing with loss are caught in a dilemma between needing to grieve and feeling pressured to “get into the spirit” of the season.
But holidays can stimulate memories and a renewed wave of pain, which feels even more pronounced. And it’s not only holidays that may trigger deep feelings of new or renewed grief. Birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions present a challenge for many, even after years have passed.
Though the experience of grief may ebb and flow, many grief counselors and experts believe it never completely disappears. But, while those who are grieving may feel even greater hurt during the holidays, they may also find new hope and healing for their aching hearts.
Here are some suggestions from bereavement expert Dr. Judith Johnson—author, educator, life coach and interfaith minister—to help the bereaved maintain inner balance during the holidays.
- Reach out to friends, family, clergy and anyone who can give you comfort and solace during this difficult time.
- Pay attention and be deeply honest with yourself about what you need to do and not do through the holidays or other significant occasions. Be patient, kind and compassionate with yourself about what is true for you.
- Take loving care of yourself. Grief expresses in many ways. Give yourself permission to feel lethargic, grumpy or out of sorts. Stay focused on what’s happening inside you and tend to yourself as you would anyone else you love deeply.
- Anticipate and plan ahead. “Don’t wait for others to make plans for you that may or may not have anything at all to do with what you really need,” Dr. Johnson said. “Face your truth and communicate what you need.”
- Make room for your grief or sadness. “Grief is a very private matter and the holidays have a way of magnifying it,” Dr. Johnson counsels. “Welcome your grief. Your sadness and tears are expressions of the healing process.” Embrace your grief and trust that it is helping you heal.
Author’s content adapted under license, © 2008 Claire Communications
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