“Grief sucks.” – Everyone Ever
This post is for you if you are grieving the loss of a loved one. Let’s acknowledge that this year may be different and will likely be tough. We can also hope that it will be alright, or even great! But that word “tough” may barely encapsulate it. Remember, resilience can be learned and developed. You’re stronger than you think. You really, really are.
“Love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can’t separate people from love. It can’t take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.” – Anonymous
A ritual is a symbolic behavior that we can perform around a meaningful event, with the intention of achieving some outcome. Rituals can be performed in a group or in solitude. They can be a one-time occurrence, or a regular action. The desired outcome ranges – you might seek emotional release or wish to honor someone or something meaningful. Despite the absence of a direct causal connection between the ritual and the desired outcome, performing rituals with the intention of producing a certain result appears to be sufficient for that result to come true, according to research.
Here’s an example of use of ritual for grief marking a holiday or anniversary: A dear friend’s father died a couple of years ago. Every year since, she gathers close friends to her house to have a potluck meal together on her father’s birthday, which is only a few days after his death. We sit in a circle on the floor with candlelight, and she plays soothing music softly. She asks us each to bring an object that symbolically represents someone that we have lost. After we eat our meal together, we each go around, and share about our object. We share who it represents, what they meant to us, what it means to us that we lost them, or whatever else feels safe to share. Sometimes, we cry. Sometimes, we laugh. Afterwards, there is a feeling of closeness, understanding, memory and comfort. This ritual is very special to her, and it has become special to me as I feel honored to be included in it. It is a safe place for me to grieve, too.
You are on a sacred journey. Honor it as such with ritual. Find one that works for you. It does not have to be like my friend’s. That works for her, but you may prefer to be alone. Here are a few ideas this season:
- Buy a plant or plant a tree
- Light a candle and journal about the loss
- Write a letter to someone you lost
- Gather symbolic mementos and make an alter
Sometimes people are just sad. Be sad. Nurture a positive view of yourself and keep your perspective on the long-term goal of survival. Pay attention to what you feel and what you need, and allow yourself time to relax or sit with your tears, your hurt, your fear and confusion, your loneliness and the complexity. This too shall pass (I guess cliché sayings became popular because they have some use).
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” – C.S. Lewis
It’s okay to politely say no to an invitation or to leave an event that becomes overwhelming. You may choose to isolate this holiday season. That’s okay. Being alone may feel much better to you. You don’t need to force yourself into terribly uncomfortable situations or accept invitations you absolutely are not ready for.
Maybe you prefer being alone because of the inconsiderate things well-meaning people seem to say in attempts to console or “fix” your pain from loss. Hold some room for forgiveness towards others during this time if you can. Listen to yourself on this one, though.
I am of the belief that I cannot fully KNOW the truths about God, Spirit, the Universe, the afterlife…but my spirituality gives me tremendous strength and hope. Perhaps you believe you have a Spirit Guide, Ancestors, Guardian Angels or Heavenly Father looking after you. If you don’t, but you want that, I believe you can ask for that. This may give you great comfort. The book Problem-based Behavioral Science and Psychiatry talks about how science provides evidence that spirituality is a protective factor against despair and hopelessness in trying times. Some clients say their prayers to people they have lost, and find comfort in this too.
While working in a women’s substance abuse rehabilitation over the December holidays several years ago, we created a “Thanks Project.” It entailed creating a personal list of 1-1,000 things you are grateful for. We found that the women who participated in creating a gratitude list did experience greater joy for the period of time. This was not scientific or measurable, but a mere observation. They happily laughed at their list, noting what little things they added, such as “coffee cup.” I think it worked for them because they were looking around for items to be grateful for, which led to a shift in perspective and attitude. Maybe you could give it a try, and set up your own reward-system. Allow gratitude and grief to co-exist.
There are numerous faith-based or non-affiliated organizations and groups available to provide social support and a sense of community during the holidays. This can help with reclaiming hope. Giving and receiving support in this way strengthens resilience as we take the focus off of our own suffering and engage in something greater. Do a google search in your location for places to volunteer or local MeetUp.com groups for an area of your interest. This can serve as a distraction in this sense, as well as an act of generativity (generativity being our psychological need to guide and contribute to the next generation of humanity.)
Maybe you can skip this holiday season. You can skip it right out of town. Go on vacation this year. See an entirely new place and have an adventure. If it is not in your financial budget to do something that requires a lot of time, planning, and travel, just go for a drive to a neighboring town you have not visited and do a day trip, or spend the time in nature.
To cope with the holidays in the wake of loss, it’s helpful to take clear actions as much as you can. Take positive actions, rather than detaching from your problem and the reality of your new circumstances, wishing it would just go away. Make a solid plan, a back-up plan, and a back-up, back-up plan. You DON’T HAVE TO stick to it, but then at least you have it!