McClarrinon: Living with grief during the holidays
“Living with Grief during the Holidays” was the name of a presentation I recently did for the Vail Valley community. My name is Celynn McClarrinon and I am a licensed social worker with an emphasis in grief work.
The holiday season, which unofficially begins somewhere in early November and ends after New Year’s Day, can be devastating for those who are grieving. This year in particular, so many of the normal activities and festivities have been canceled and we find ourselves alone, wishing things were back to normal. We are longing to make plans; we want to gather with our friends and family and we are nervous about how things will go in the future.
Add on top of this already remarkable time — feeling the pain and loss after a death of a loved one or any other number of losses that we have experienced is heart breaking.
At the Grief Recovery Institute, we’ve talked with thousands of people who’ve told us they wished they could jump from late October right to mid-January. We certainly want to skip way into 2021 in hopes of something familiar.
It’s normal to worry that you won’t be able to handle the pain of this holiday season, whether the missing loved one is a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, or child. Because of COVID-19, we might have to skip the holiday gatherings this year. And emotionally, we might rather skip because of the heartbreak. Those feelings and fears are not illogical or irrational. They represent a normal, healthy range of emotions about painful loss and our society’s limited ability to talk openly and honestly about grief.
When friends and neighbors are decking the halls and hanging mistletoe, grievers are reliving memories of Christmas past. Facing the holidays after losing a loved one is nostalgic reminder of merrier times and can be filled with unending tears. I remember after my mother died, I was filling my time with recreating her Christmas bread, putting up each ornament with extra care and all the while balling my eyes out.
Here is a list of 10 tips for getting through this holiday season. Allow yourself to try a handful of these tips to guide you through the emotional kaleidoscope. Above all, do what feels best to your heart and soul. I hope that you give yourself big doses of kindness and compassion.
Stick with a routine
A familiar routine offers a sense of reassurance that at least one thing in life hasn’t changed and the familiarity can help us feel grounded.
Avoid packing the schedule
Shopping, town events, and parties are all part of the season and can keep us running around getting ready for the holidays. It seems in time of COVID, our schedules might not be as packed as previous years. Traditional events like the tree lighting or other gatherings might not happen. In that way, your schedule might lighten up organically. Emotionally, grief is exhausting. Plenty of rest will help minimize raw nerves. Make sure you give yourself time to breathe. Stay hydrated and try to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Get some exercise.
Cut yourself some slack … not your finger
Grieving is naturally distracting. Even the smallest kitchen disaster can quickly deplete coping skills. It is OK to buy store-bought or do things differently in the kitchen. Not only is this a good idea in the kitchen, but while you are driving, moving things around the house. It is easy to get distracted and cause an accident or hurt ourselves. Numbness, lack of concentration and confusion are symptoms of grief.
Skip the chaos
Turn off the computer, light a fragrant candle and grab a soft blanket. Curl up with a movie or a book. Take time to create peaceful surroundings to soothe your nerves.
Treat your senses to some TLC
Each day acknowledge five things that you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear and two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Notice the moments of peace, joy and warmth when you can and cherish them.
When the mood strikes … give yourself permission to feel joy without guilt
The heart can hold both and it’s good for you. It is OK to feel all emotions. Grief is emotional.
Honor the past
Find a way to include your loved one’s memory. Hang their stocking and fill it with treat for the family pet, make your favorite meal or dessert, or pay it forward in your loved ones name.
Do something in the community that lifts your spirits. It induces a “helper’s high” that is good for the brain and the heart. It also reminds us we are not alone in our struggles. COVID-19 might make it harder to volunteer. One suggestion is to sign up to ring the bell for the Salvation Army.
Surround yourself with others who will listen to your heart. Talk with someone you can confide in about your conflicting feelings about the holidays. Let them know that this is hard for you. Let them be there for you. Let your friends and family know what you need.
Give into the tears. There is no shortage of raw emotions over the holidays and a good cry can be cleansing and help release emotional build up.
As difficult as it seems, you will survive the holidays. Because of your grief, this holiday might prove to be a very difficult experience. However, you will get through it. I hope you can use a few of these tips to help you make a plan for the days and weeks ahead.
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