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Grief & the Holidays – 10 Tips that Might Help

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 missing this holiday season?

Do you ever feel pressured to put your grief behind you?

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#Grief & the #Holiday - 10 tips that might help #christmas #holidayseason #grieving #loss

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Julia

Wednesday 5th of December 2018

This is my 3rd set of holidays without my dad (as well as my mom, who died years ago). I'm getting used to it but that doesn't mean it's easy or anywhere near as happy and fun as before. It feels as though the center's been hollowed out somewhat.

The first Thanksgiving and Christmas after my mom died my dad wisely (but without really pointing it out) arranged for us to deviate from our usual holiday patterns. It really helped to not be facing doing the same things, in the same house, that we'd always done as an intact family. By the following year, while it was still wrenching, it felt o.k. to resume some of our traditions and patterns. I'll always appreciate Dad's insight in giving us that breathing space and helping all of us get through that first year. I would strongly recommend considering something similar to anyone in the same situation.

I've also learned that a death or serious illness in the family affects ALL family members (it's not just about me!) and not necessarily in the same way. Family dynamics can be thrown way out of whack in unexpected ways - relationships can be strained and everyone is in too much of their own pain to recognize what's going on with others in the family.

Having gone through that, I'd say don't put too much stock in anything said in anger or pain, don't write off any relationships and try not to take anything too personally. That sibling or adult offspring or whoever may be struggling with their grief and loss just as you are, but "coping" with it very differently. Give things time, stay kind and open and realize that equilibrium has been disturbed but can return eventually. Things will never be the same again but they can be good, albeit in a different way.

I, too, recommend looking for opportunities to be kind and generous of spirit. Putting something in the Salvation Army kettle, holding a door, sending someone a note, etc., will do us as much good as the recipient. When the world looks bleak and cold sometimes we have to be the light we need in the world.

Linda Boberg

Wednesday 5th of December 2018

Grief ebbs and flows. My parents are gone eight years now and little things will make me very sad all over again. My best friend's mother died last week. Our mothers weren't great friends, but knew one another because of our friendship. But I can't help thinking about mom while I am trying to support Mary. Also, a work colleague said to me "you've never been the same since your parents died. You need to get beyond it." when she was angry with me. I thought I was 'handling it' well. I blew up at her. Grief is not something that you can limit to a specific time or will away.

Nancy

Wednesday 5th of December 2018

Linda, Your work colleague's comment was very insensitive. Grief is not something you get over after a certain amount of time passes. It's understandable your best friend's recent loss of her mother stirred up a lot of emotions for you. Grief definitely ebbs and flows, sometimes taking us by surprise. Thank you for sharing.

Beth Gainer

Thursday 5th of January 2017

Hi Nancy,

I'm playing catch-up. This is an excellent post with such helpful advice. I love all your points, but I especially love the first one -- "honor your grief." I've never quite thought of it that way. I'm sorry about your dad, and the holidays must've been so difficult without him.

I'm grieving for my cat right now. I know she was just an animal, but for 15 years she helped me -- through cancer treatment, divorce, and various other life changes. I'm really angry at cancer right now, because that's why I made the decision to put her to sleep; she had an aggressive form of cancer. I cry for her regularly. I feel the ebb and flow as you say because some days I'm OK, and other days my heart simply breaks.

Nancy

Thursday 5th of January 2017

Beth, I'm going to make a real effort to honor my grief in 2017. I know I'm sorta expected to be done with the bulk of it by now, but I'm not. And I don't care. I will be writing more about grief this year, I'm sure. I am so sorry about Cossette. She was more than just a cat, she was part of your family. She was part of your support system during some rough times. And good times, too, of course. I always call Sophie (and Elsie) by secret keepers and eyewitnesses. They saw a lot. And yes, it's cruel when cancer snatches our dear pets too. Wishing you good things and a healing heart in 2017, my friend. xx

Honey Bee

Sunday 1st of January 2017

Hello Nancy,

These thoughts are all so very helpful for me.

It is now five years since my dear husband died, and although I now plan to make Christmas special (I have no children or family) for myself by travelling over Christmas with a group and by attending wonderful musical events and services, this year I felt the emotions of grief and loss even more acutely than I have other years.

That surprised me, but, after acknowledging the grief and its erratic dips and sideswipes, I did manage to have a lovely time. Perhaps the story book setting helped. The change helped, too. So did seeing familiar faces I'd seen on previous trips. But the "aloneness" in the midst of such a family oriented time seemed to unsettle me this year more than it usually does. One's friends are all tied up with their own families.

Thank you for making this a place where grief, even years down the road, can be expressed and acknowledged. Thank you for providing a haven for those of us who seem "out of sync" with the world rushing by. Thank you for allowing us to "just be" without having to perform to a certain standard of expectation. All this is calming and freeing and comforting.

Honey Bee

Nancy

Monday 2nd of January 2017

Honey Bee, Thank you for your kind words. I am humbled by them. You expressed so well exactly what I want this space to be, a safe haven for all of us to just be. Again, thank you. My best to you in 2017 and beyond.

Katherine Moynihan

Wednesday 21st of December 2016

Thanks, Nancy. This is exactly what my family needs today. ~ Kate Has Cancer

Nancy

Thursday 22nd of December 2016

Katherine, I am very sorry about your family's heartache. Thinking about you all. And thank you, I do hope my post helps a tiny bit. xo