So they are here. The holidays. Thanksgiving (phew we made it!) Next up – Christmas and/or Chanukah. Then New Years. A time of celebration for everyone, aside from those of us in grief. I have not celebrated a single holiday since losing my dad. I prefer to climb under my covers and read, watch movies, do anything to pretend it is any other day. I feel his “not there-ness” way too intensely to pretend it is a day of celebration. I don’t want to bring others down by letting them know how hard holidays are. And I certainly don’t want to be “inspired” to cheer up by the “good vibes only” mentality that can seep from Instagram into our real lives all too often. Is this the right thing? For me it is. Maybe there is something completely different that you need to do.
Regardless, one thing that seems fairly consistent especially in early grief about the holidays is “How do I get through them? What do I actually do?!”
I can’t answer that for you. No one can, but I decided to ask for some tips by those who work with grieving people in various capacities. Take what feels right. Leave what doesn’t. Grief is an individual journey.
1 – Lisa Hart. Lisa is a registered nurse (RN), who has done plenty of work with patients (and their families) during the end-stage of a terminal illness.
“Go easy on yourself. Be kind to yourself. It’s okay to have moments when you feel like you are breaking down. The lights, sights, memories and smells of the season will offer sadness and nostalgia. It’s perfectly okay for you to feel pain and sorrow despite society feeling joyous and excited. Go to a coffee shop and get your favorite drink or perhaps try something new while you sip in the deliciousness and you may realize that the spirit of the season can be found even if just for an hour. Have your holiday moment and know this is okay.”
– Lisa M. Hart Registered Nurse
2- Lennon Flowers. Lennon is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of The Dinner Party, which is an organization for people primarily in their 20’s, 30’s, and early 40s who have experienced a significant loss to meet over intimate dinners and talk about it.
“Make a Dish with Meaning: In an age in which many of us live galaxies away from the worlds in which we grew up, food serves as our personal native tongue, our way of introducing ourselves and the people and places whose imprints we carry with us. We encourage you to prepare a dish with a story behind it: a family recipe or holiday staple, a popular food tradition from where you grew up, a dish that ties you to both the living and the dead. Same goes for all guests: It’s a great way to get a glimpse into someone else’s world, and it immediately invites a story.
The journey is yours alone, but you are not alone in journeying. We’ve come to appreciate that everyone has a story, whether they’ve lived through loss firsthand, or watched someone who has. We’ve had people start dinner tables around divorce, miscarriage, and an array of topics and shared experiences we typically keep under lock and key. The stories that we scrupulously avoid are precisely the ones that bind us together, and are precisely the ones we should be talking about.
Family is something we can choose to make. It’s often easy to dwell on what we don’t have, or what we never had to begin with—particularly around the holidays. But as OnBeing contributor Courtney Martin writes, “It is our families that shape us from the very beginning, but it is our friends that truly define us down the road. They are the ones we get to invite into our lives.” Ours is a transitory age: A time in which it’s totally normal to live hundreds of miles from the worlds in which we grew up. Now more than ever, we need people we can call when we need to flash the bat signal: People who get it, who can see us through our worst days, and celebrate our best.”
– Lennon Flowers of The Dinner Party
3 – Bob Ginsberg. Bob is one of the founders of the Forever Family Foundation, an organization “Where science and spirituality work hand in hand to find answers for the world and bring comfort to the grieving.”
“Those who grieve the loss of a loved one know that holidays and special days are often triggers that unleash deep sadness. However, if we come to the realization that they are not gone forever, that they live on not only in our hearts but literally in another realm, perhaps we can once again recapture and embrace the spirit and meaning of such days.”
– Bob Ginsberg, Co-Founder and Vice President of Forever Family Foundation
4 – The Team at Pinterest. Maybe Pinterest is not the first place you would think to look for advice on grief, but the team noticed trending searches that came up around the holidays related to grief and loneliness.They were inspired to offer a helpful initiative and supportive tips based on these all too popular searches. We know these do not solve deep grief or loneliness, but it’s nice to remind yourself that the holidays are not only about celebrating and that it’s ok to give yourself little kindnesses.
“How can a person address feelings of grief & loneliness during the holidays? The holidays can be a wonderful time of year for many, but for others, holiday cheer isn’t always a given. People come to Pinterest to search for terms like “Christmas alone”, which last year increased 440% from November to December, compared to overall searches on “Christmas” which only increased 20% during the same time frame. If you’re feeling anxious or sad, there’s a variety of emotional well-being activities you can do right from the Pinterest app. Search for #pinterestwellbeing to jump into exercises for feeling gratitude and self-compassion, along with other interactive practices that could help you improve your mood. While it doesn’t replace professional care, it might help give you some support in your time of need.
- Relax and indulge with an “at-home spa kit”.
- Create your own “holiday tunes playlist” for a festive me-day
- Try a delicious homemade “hot chocolate recipe” while watching your favorite holiday classic
- “Find (and master) a new haircut”
- Make “DIY face masks” and curl up with a good book.”
– The Team at Pinterest
6 – Joe Perreta. Joe is a medium who works on a regular basis with people in the rawest and darkest moments of their grief as he connects them with their loved ones who have passed. Yes there is a lot of skepticism around mediumship, but he has been certified by Forever Family Foundation, which means he has passed a rigorous science-based test to prove he is getting highly accurate information such as names and specific memories without cheating. He has even been studied by science departments at credible universities such as The University of Virginia. This prestige leads many clients to him in their most desperate moments.
“This is a big one: the holidays won’t ever be the same and that’s ok, they’re not supposed to be. Give yourself permission to not be in the holiday spirit.”
7 – Harriet Cabelly. Harriet is a Licensed Social Worker who specializes in rebuilding your life after trauma and major adversity, such as loss of a loved one.
“Holidays are naturally one of the most ‘dreadest’ times after one has lost a loved one and is in the throes of grief.
- The best form of self-care is to give yourself permission to feel – to feel the sadness and grief as a most natural and normal part of your being right now.
- Try out the holiday in a new way. After all, life is now different without the loved one, why not make the holidays something different as well. Your reality is now new; create a new holiday form.
- Decide to skip the holiday – take the holiday off for the year. Do what you need to do to embrace yourself during this time of togetherness with family/friends that can certainly magnify your own emptiness and sadness.”
Harriet Cabelly, LCSW at Rebuild Your Life Now
8 – Alice Entin. Embarrassingly full disclosure here – this is my mom. But she is also a trained psychotherapist with a full practice who trains students to become therapists.
“For grief. If you can, do not interfere with surges of grief. Find a place to cry. Give it priority.”Alice Entin (aka Mom – at least according to me), Psychoanalyst, LCSW
– Alice Entin (aka Mom – at least according to me), Psychoanalyst, LCSW
9 – Doreen Molloy. Doreen is another #FFFCertifiedMedium (Forever Family Foundation Certified Medium ) who works with people in the rawest depth of their grief. She also is a trained counselor in The Grief Recovery Method.
“A way to channel some of the pain you might be feeling at holiday time would be to take an action that will honor your loved one in a specific way. Some possibilities might be to donate time or some type of service in your loved one’s name… Or if you’re feeling up to it, you might consider helping another family who has experienced a loss similar to yours… And if you are computer savvy (or you know someone who is), think about putting up a web site to honor your loved one; it can include photos and stories… and will most likely invite others to contribute to the site as well… This is a great way to keep someone’s memory alive!”
10 – Mita Carriman. I think it is important to include reminders that it is okay to escape and have fun, even when in grief. There is no one who gets this more than Mita Carriman who has experienced significant personal loss and has gone on to found her own travel startup Adventurely, due in part to how much travel has helped her cope with her own loss.
“My biggest recommendation to someone encountering their first holiday season without a close loved one, is to travel. I lost my mother to cancer in 2016, and that first Christmas without her left me with profound levels of grief. Several friends invited me to share Christmas with them, but I didn’t want to celebrate anything on that day.
In fact – I wished Christmas and the holidays would completely go away. I wanted to do anything that didn’t remind me of a typical Christmas at home with my mother, and I ended up spending that first Christmas with a Meetup group for people of the Jewish faith to go for a group lunch in NYC to a Chinese restaurant, and catch a movie after- something that I learned is somewhat of a custom for a lot people in NY with a Jewish background.
The lunch was great, but I was feeling too down to go to the movie after, so I ended up walking around NYC and then heading home alone. I promised myself that I would do anything and everything possible to not be in NY again next year for the holidays, and I made it happen.
The following Christmas I traveled to Madrid Spain, and it felt so incredible to be away from NY where I had always associated my mother and the holidays. If I had understood how hard that first Christmas would have been, I would have made travel plans for the holidays asap. It’s still going to be challenging no matter where you may be, but being away from my typical holiday environment helped tremendously.”
– Mita Carriman, Founder at Adventurely
11 – Sarah Miller. Sarah is an end of life doula, helping individuals and families with this often heartbreaking transition.
“The first rule to getting through the holidays with grief is that there are no rules. For some people it may feel best to take a break from the holidays, while others may want to create a special ritual to remember their loved ones. The important part is to give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel. When memories or feelings come up, take the time to recognize them. This could look like journaling, talking to a trusted friend or counselor, or even setting aside some time each day to “grieve” in whatever way suits you best.”
Sarah also offers a tip from her personal experience with grief.
“To help me get through the holidays without my dad I have chosen to keep our Christmas Eve tradition alive. Each year we would fall asleep watching It’s a Wonderful Life on the couch together. This will be my fourth Christmas without him and I still make it a point to watch our movie on Christmas Eve. It helps me to feel close and connected with him, even though he can’t be here with me in physical form.”
– Sarah Miller. End of Life doula at District Doula in the DC area
Love to all of you coping with loss. It is NOT easy. But you are not alone.
#Grief #HolidayGrief #CopingWithHolidayGrief