I realized the other day, or rather it started to sink in, that this is the first holiday season for me in which I no longer have a living parent. It’s hard coming to terms with this realization. It hurts. I also know I am lucky because I have many wonderful memories. But it’s still hard. And even though it’s only been four months since my dad’s funeral, it sometimes seems like I’m supposed to have already moved on.
Grief and cancer are weird like that. People give you time for the messy parts, the high-intensity parts, and then one day things are pretty much supposed to be back to normal. You are supposed to be back to normal.
It’s almost like the more quickly you “finish up” cancer (yeah, we know better, right?) or finish up grieving, the better job you are perceived to be doing at handling them. After all, we live in a hurry up sort of world.
What complete bullshit though. You don’t just wake up one day and put either one of these life-changing experiences behind you. Neither are that tidy.
Grief and cancer are both things I’ll never just be done with for too many reasons to go into here.
Grief (and cancer) makes people uncomfortable. And most people avoid being uncomfortable, especially around the holidays.
Every holiday season I get emails and/or comments on old blog posts I’ve written on grief from people who’ve recently experienced the death of a loved one. A common thread in the messages is that the individuals have no idea how to face, much less enjoy, the holidays. They often say things like, I don’t know how I’m going to get through the holidays, or I can’t tell you how much I am dreading the holidays this year.
So what are you supposed to do when it’s the holidays, but you are grieving?
I wish I had the answers, but of course, I don’t. No one does.
However, I have found these things help. Sometimes. But only sometimes because sometimes nothing helps. Sometimes you just have to ride the waves of grief.
1. First and foremost, honor your grief.
Don’t try to fake it, at least not all the time. That’s far too exhausting and doesn’t work anyway. And remember everyone grieves differently which is a wonderful thing, but also potentially frustrating because often it seems others are doing a far better job than you are. Grieve your way and remember there’s no time table. There just isn’t.
2. Talk about your loved one, even if it makes you sad, even if it makes others sad or uncomfortable.
It’s okay if the tears start flowing. Sometimes you have to cry before you can laugh. Or vice versa.
3. Ask for help.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, or better yet, before you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for help with the shopping, cooking, baking, decorating, card writing, cleaning, gift wrapping, dog grooming or whatever tasks you would like to get done, but just can’t handle on your own this year.
4. Or better yet, cut back on all of the stuff and all of the doing.
Do what you can. It’ll be enough. Really it will be.
5. Get out and do something for someone else.
And it needn’t be anything big. Maybe just deliver some cookies (store bought are fine) to an elderly person on your street. Offer to babysit. Or walk someone’s dog. Or take someone to a movie. It’s the getting out and doing parts that matter, not so much what you’re doing.
6. Make a donation.
Donate in your loved one’s name to a charity, cause or institution your loved one cared about or that you think they would care about. There’s a reason for all those plaques hanging on walls in such places.
7. Light a candle and think about the wonderful memories you have of your loved one. Or decorate a tree just for your loved one.
Having a concrete object or place to “put” your grief can be helpful. Some people even set up a grief room. Do what works or might work for you.
8. Own your feelings.
State out loud how you’re feeling. Or write down your thoughts and feelings. Journaling can be a god-send. The important thing is to acknowledge your genuine thoughts and feelings. They are yours, so own them.
9. Take care of yourself.
You know the drill. Get enough sleep. Eat right. Exercise. Okay, try to do these things.
10. Finally, remind yourself that grief ebbs and flows too.
It’s perfectly fine to have moments of joy mixed with sadness and moments of sadness mixed with joy. Emotions are always jumbled after loss, during the holidays, even more so.
Never feel badly about grieving for your loved one or worry about spoiling the holidays. That would be like feeling badly for loving your dear one.
Because after all, grief is another form of love.
As always, be you. Be real.
It’s enough, even during the holidays, perhaps especially then.
What tip might you add?
Who are you grieving for this holiday season?
Do you generally grieve privately?