The holidays are an opportunity to enjoy family, friends, food, drink and customs, as well as ethnic, religious and spiritual rituals. In addition to joyous experiences, like giving and receiving cards, gifts and donations, the holidays can also bring feelings of sadness, stress, disappointment, depression and loneliness to the surface, especially when we have experienced a loss.
You may have heard of someone celebrating a “Blue Christmas.” These interfaith services are usually inclusive of all denominations and publicly acknowledge that not everyone is “happy” and that many people are mourning during this season. Historically, people wore black clothes or armbands, cut their hair, tore their garments, or some other outward sign of grieving; today, grieving people may be harder to identify, and due to work and economic pressures, may not take time for processing their grief and practicing self-care.
Bereaved people may decline to accept holiday invitations because they feel that they don’t want to “bring the celebration down,” or because they prefer isolation over socialization. Many eat a variety of less healthy foods when gathered for the holidays. Pay attention to your choices and the fuel that you are putting into your body.
Because of a cultural emphasis on consumerism, grieving people might consider being careful about how much money you spend, what you are eating (or not eating) and self-care, in general. Many people do not want to cook for or eat alone. Find someone who is in a similar situation and see how you might share meals. Be mindful of those who are in the military, are divorced, geographically dispersed or in assisted living or nursing homes, as the holidays can add stress in those situations as well.
Get in touch with what you want to do or do not want to do, as opposed to what you think you should do. Avoid being overly concerned about what others may think or feel if you attend or choose to leave early from a party or celebration. Be advised, however, that if you continue to decline invitations, no matter how respectfully, people may stop inviting you. You may be fine with that; it is just something to consider.
Bereaved people have taught me that it may help to take pressure off of “the” holiday by celebrating before the actual day. That way, you have had your gathering and you can decide how you feel on the “official” holiday and adjust your plans accordingly. Some people take comfort in visiting the cemetery or remembering those who have preceded us in death by serving a favorite food, looking at family photos or DVD’s, leaving an empty chair or having a home altar or special centerpiece.
You might choose to do something completely different this year just to change things up. Routines can be comforting or confining. Be courageous in asking for help when you need it. Communicate with clarity so people really know how you FEEL. Ask others how they feel & really listen. You might be surprised by their response.
Avoid “energy vampires” that make you feel guilty or drain or deplete you even further. If these people are in your immediate family or circle of influence, distance yourself emotionally and physically to reclaim your energy & to protect yourself, even if it means going to a different room for a while or going outside to be immersed in nature.
I find that humor helps in navigating loss. Having 30 years of experience in death and dying, I recall a story of a mother trying to guide her child through the experience of his first wake or visitation, which was for his grandfather. The mom took a moment with the child in the back of the funeral home, describing that Grandpa had died, his body was in a casket and Grandma was next to the casket. The mother advised her son to go up to Grandma and say that he was sorry. The child shouted, “I didn’t do it!” Clearly, he was not going to take the blame for Grandpa’s death, which was from natural causes.
In closing, nourish yourself with healthy choices in proper nutrition. Nourish yourself by getting adequate sleep and appropriate exercise. Nourish yourself by appreciating nature. Nourish yourself by spending time with those people and pets that you love or by listening to music. Nourish yourself by being of service to others and by expressing gratitude; legacy letters or ethical wills are a great way to let people know that you love, care about or appreciate them.
Marguerite O’Connor, M.Ed.
Experienced Funeral Celebrant & Virtual Franchise Owner