When the stores stock Halloween items on the shelves, it is reminder that the holidays are on the way. If you’re grieving, these images may further embed haunting memories. It has been almost four years since the untimely passing of my only sibling. As it happened over the holidays, this time of year is inevitably going to remind me of things I couldn’t expect. I could withdraw or retreat. You could, too. However, I’m a therapist and know that taking time off to heal is vastly different from withdrawing for long periods of time.
Connectivity is essential for well-being. In times of acute stress, your feelings falsely tell you being alone is better. Your brain is protecting you from seeing others have fun when you are sad. It is isolating. You need to be insulated.
Life goes on for others. It does for you, too. You may be forever changed, but this season of grief can evolve into a life more attuned to purposeful living. How you process your pain is key. Choosing to connect with others is counter-intuitive but restorative.
These are five ways to find hope. They aren’t easy or quick, but they are simple.
- Break traditions to create transitions.
Realize healing is more than one day at a time. It is really one moment at a time. Getting through one day is daunting when you’re in agony. Your family or friends may push you to far too fast. If it is too much to decorate a tree, bake cookies or do any other holiday traditions, don’t. Do something new. Every year attempt to find novel ways to celebrate in a way that elevates you.
- Realize loneliness is dangerous.
Yes, it hurts to see others enjoying themselves. However, being with other people even if you feel numb, will help you heal. Loneliness is an epidemic. It is the underlying cause of my brother’s passing. Isolation can take years off your life. A Harvard study found loneliness more lethal than cigarettes or alcohol. Accept a few invitations. Go to a small gathering or two. Explain to your host you may leave early. It’s okay to leave early. Not going at all is isolating.
- Ask for help. It’s okay not to be okay.
Grief takes time and understanding. Joining a grief group, talking to a confidant or professional counselor will allow your emotions to be heard. You need to be heard when you hurt. Finding safe people to share your grief with is essential at all times of the year.
- It’s okay to enjoy yourself, too.
Sometimes you may find yourself humming a Christmas carol or buying a gift for a child and feeling the joy of the season. Then you may feel a tinge of guilt or sadness. Each tiny moment of happiness or gratitude you feel is healing. Allow your feelings to ebb and flow freely.
- Think about what your loved one would have told you to do.
This is a tough one if there was dysfunction in your family. Yet, no matter how complex the grief, what would the person you lost tell you to do? You can access their personality at any time. Most of the time, they would tell you to do the best you can to enjoy your life while you’re here.
Do the best you can to find your own ways to stay connected during the holidays. It is the greatest gift you can give to yourself.