It’s been just over a month since my last writing, and though I had hoped that this would be a space I had opportunity to use more frequently, I’m thankful to have time and space to write today.
It’s November. The week of Thanksgiving. The official commencement of the holiday season. For a long time in the years after Lydia died, my reaction to this impending season could be summed up in one word.
This initial single word response would often be followed by feelings of anxiety and an increased urgency to burst into tears at the smallest thing. I know that everyone approaches the holidays differently, but I wanted to share some things that have been helpful for me as I moved through times of celebration when I was deeply grieving. Even now, several years out from our loss, I still find these things to be helpful.
Know your limits and have an escape plan. I know no one wants to think about having to run away from people, but if you’re anything like me, you have a threshold for the amount of interaction you can handle before you start powering down. In regular, healthy-brained times of life, it’s not so hard to push yourself and solider on even when you’re all done with other humans. But in a state of grief, you might wear down faster. If you’ve gotten familiar enough with your grief that you can identify warning signs, set yourself some boundaries. For example, when we would be at a party or gathering and I started feeling like I wanted to slap every person who tried to talk to me, I knew it was time to go. Pay attention and get out of there. It might upset your friends that you leave early, but not as much as it will if you punch someone for asking if you’re doing ok.
Make a time and space to grieve. One of the most useful pieces of advice I received from a therapist (yes, I went to therapy and YOU SHOULD TO! Everyone should! GO TO THERAPY!) was to build in regularly scheduled times to grieve. This was in the context of my day to day life, but I’ve found it especially helpful during the holidays. A lot of things during this season make me want to cry or yell or need to sleep, but these things don’t always come at an opportune time. If I know that I have a time planned to sit with my grief and feel my feelings, I feel better able to put those emotions to the back for a little bit. I am also aware that these feelings sometimes demand immediate attention, which brings me to…
Don’t be afraid to cry in front of people, in public places, in your car, whatever. Society in general isn’t much for public displays of sadness. People don’t always know what to do with your grief. But, sometimes you can’t let that be your problem. Sometimes you’ll be standing in a Joann Fabrics store, looking at little Christmas decoration with the word “hope” written on it and you will suddenly burst into tears because in a season of hope you feel desperately hopeless and you’ll need to just stand in the aisle and cry uncontrollably and I will tell you right now, people will just walk around you. Feel your feelings if you need to.
Talk about your person. This is one of those tricky to navigate things because obviously you’re thinking of the person you’ve lost, and the people around you are too. They don’t want to bring it up because they don’t want you to be sad. You don’t want to bring it up because you don’t want to make them sad. But, if you’re together and if the people you are with care about you at all, it’s better for you to be sad together. Bring up your person. Say you miss them. Share a memory from a holiday with them that you hold dear. And if you are a friend to someone who has recently suffered the loss of someone they love, you can do this too! Every year on Christmas, my dad will come and put his arm around me and tell me how much he misses Lydia and every year I start to cry. But it’s only partly because I miss her. More of my tears are thankfulness that I have people in my life who are willing to speak her name and miss her with me.
Take naps. That’s it. Not a napper? Go find a quiet place and put your head down for a few minutes. Let your breath even out and your heart beat slow down and rest.
It’s OK to celebrate. Maybe you won’t feel like it and that’s OK. But maybe you will, and that’s OK too! Maybe every five minutes your feelings about celebrating holidays will change. Maybe you’ll want to spend the holidays in a way that’s totally different than you ever have before. That is OK. Maybe you’ll want to do everything exactly the same as before. That is OK too. You won’t always know until you try and the process of making new memories and traditions can be a tough, confusing one. But however you decide to it, IT IS OK.
This is very certainly not a comprehensive list. Since grieving is so individual, I’m sure not all of these will be helpful to every person. Feel free to share something that you’ve found helpful to you as you grieve through the holidays. I think the best and last thing I will say to you is this:
YOU WILL MAKE IT THROUGH.