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When You're Grieving During the Holidays

When you're grieving the loss of your loved one, important holidays, such as Christmas, become very hard. The gaping hole in your life where your loved one used to be is magnified this time of year: there’s an empty space at the table, a sound of laughter that is no longer there. This is a time for friends and family, but your family is missing someone. The holidays seem to magnify your loss, and serve as a reminder that your person is not here, and of what you would give to just have more time, to have one more Christmas together.

The Sadness Makes Everything Hurt More…

With the Holiday season, the sadness, that is always at a constant low-level hum, now seems to press closer to the surface, and everything seems harder, and hurts more. I call it feeling as if you are missing a couple of layers of skin. The sadness might feel like a weight around your heart, and you might feel as if you are moving through your world like you have weights around your ankles, or cement shoes on your feet. What seemed easier to do before, seems to take so much more energy, and take so much more time.

Be Gentle with Yourself…

On those days, it’s a good idea to be gentle with yourself, and be gentle with your heart. If you find yourself feeling more irritable, sensitive, easily overwhelmed, or having a hard time concentrating, you might take a step back, notice how you are feeling, which is likely a deep, deep sadness. Give yourself time to take care of yourself, take some quiet time, time to cry it out, or talk it out with a trusted someone. It really is ok, and might make the rest of the day/season easier to bear.

Go Easy with the Planning…

Here’s another thing, you really may not know how you are going to feel on the day, until the day happens. So, it might be a good idea to have flexible plans and to avoid committing to too many things on that day. You might have decided that it would be better to go to a friend or family member’s house rather than entertaining in your home. You might have decided the opposite, that it would be better to have family/friends over to your house so you don’t have to leave. Or, you may have decided to do neither, to stay home and keep things quiet. My point is, whatever you decided, come that day, you might find that you need the opposite of what you had planned.

Speak your Needs Out Loud…

My hope for you is that you are able to speak your needs out-loud, and that the people around you are prepared to be understanding, and flexible with what you need during this time. Try to give yourself permission to pay attention to what you need, and know that the people who are supporting you are willing, and wanting, to help. Communicating your needs to them will help them know what to do. Speaking your needs out-loud, when things get overwhelming, might involve saying something like this:

"I feel_________. I need _______________. Would you be willing to_________?"

Example: “I feel really sad right now. I need to go be by myself for a while.

Would you be willing to watch the kids for a bit?”

(Adapted from: (c) 2005 by Center for Nonviolent Communication Website: Email: Phone: +1.505.244.4041)

Remember the Hardest Day might not Happen on the Actual Day…

While the actual day of the holiday will likely be a very hard day, it's possible that the hardest day may not happen on the day of the holiday. It might happen the day before, or the week before. It might happen the day after, or week after. It might span the entire month preceding, or following the holiday. You may not realize why you were having a hard time until well after the actual day, and then look back and realize what had been going on emotionally during that time. All that is ok too.

Eventually it will be easier to see this all coming, you will have a better idea of how to navigate through the season while being mindful of how your grief might affect your needs and feelings. When you're grieving the loss of your loved one during the holidays it's important to remember that sadness makes everything hurt more, so go easy with the planning of the actual day and the days that surround it, being mindful of your feelings, speaking your needs out-loud so others can know how to help, and most importantly, remembering to be gentle with yourself and especially your heart.

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