“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” ~ Philo
The Holidays are underway. The decorations are upon us; the music is playing. For many, the Holidays evoke tradition, family, joy, celebration, love, peace and goodwill.
But, sadly, many this Holiday season are filled with loss and grief. If you are that person, you may be living in a fog and feeling somewhat ambivalent about celebrating the holidays.
I so understand. I can share with you that for me and my family I don’t think any of us will ever get used to yet another Christmas without Dad or Pop-Pop for my nieces and nephews. Yet, it is just that, another year without this man that we love and who has meant so much to everyone of us. And in addition to missing Dad, my Aunt grieves the loss of her husband as well as two of my sister-in-laws and my nephew’s fiancé, all grieve the loss of their mothers. Every day is a reminder of who we are missing yet the Holidays twinge and magnify the loss just as much.
As for my Mom, she is as stable as she can be for now, happy and pleasant in her own world, yet declining before our eyes. So much she doesn’t remember about her life and as she continues to decline it gets more difficult for her to remember the family she has loved with all her heart. But love she does. With each smile, with each sound of her laughter, with each kiss and hug and held hand, she loves. Somewhere inside we know she remembers, she gives us that love we have always known and we know she can feel the love that we have for her.
Grief is all around us, not only in my family but in many, many others.
And despite everything, the one truth that I can share with you is that the grief that I have felt in the past is not as painful as it was. Missing Dad will always be a part of my life, a void that will never go away. Grieving Mom while this disease takes her mind is so very hard. It’s a balancing act to manage all the emotions with these two losses. Dad is forever a part of me and always in my heart. It feels good to always know that he wants me to live my best life and to be happy. He wanted that for his entire family and now that he is gone, I choose to honor him by being the best person I know how to be. With Mom, the challenge is not to focus on what she no longer remembers but to be with her now and to make each moment as joyful and happy as we can for her.
With that being said, if you or someone you know is experiencing grief this holiday season, below are some suggestions that I hope will help you and allow you to help someone else get through a difficult time:
- Plan ahead. Think about what you do and don’t want to do. You are the best judge of what is right for you.
Don’t forget your self care. Give yourself permission to relax and rest. Go slow and do what you can when you can.
- Tell others what you need. If you need to take a break from your usual celebrations this year. That’s okay. You can always come back to these traditions next year.
- Let others help you stay in touch with yourself. In the first waves of grief it is a coping strategy to say “I’m OK when asked by others how we are. This keeps us on automatic pilot and allows us to function. Over time, this response gets worn out if we continue to answer this way when we are feeling otherwise. If how you are really feeling is “a little shaky at times, or I miss so and so so much”, be honest. Those that really care about you will appreciate the truth and you will be expressing your grief in a healthy way by being honest and letting others know your true feelings.
- It’s okay to cry and feel sad. Your feelings, whatever they may be demonstrate the depth of your love.
It’s also okay to smile, laugh and enjoy the moment. This is not disrespectful to the loss that you are experiencing nor is it a sign that you have forgotten. Life is meant to be lived and you honor your loved one by living and having the best life that you can.
- Trust your instincts. Everyone’s grief is unique. You know what you need. And, it’s okay to change your mind over and over again during any celebration. You don’t know what feelings will come up and when that will happen. When they do, if you can stay in the moment, that’s great; if not, it’s okay to leave and try again at another time.
- Keep a journal. Grief brings on many intense feelings. Writing can provide you with a safe place to express those feelings.
- Start new traditions. Say a special prayer or blessing before the holiday meal; light a candle in honor of your loved one; create a memory book filled with photos and special mementos. Set aside some time for story telling to remember your loved one, invite others to share their stories; compile a cd filled with your loved one’s favorite music and listen to it together as a family.
These are just a few ideas to help ease grief at this time of year. My hope is that those who are in the web of grief right now will eventually feel and realize that their life is much richer for the love they have known. Through this loss, it is my hope they will find an inner strength to one day realize their ability to go on, one step at a time.