Marianne sat on the edge of her seat, leaning towards me and, through her sobs and hiccoughs, stated very clearly, ?I don?t want to do Christmas!? ?I can?t, I just can?t.?
Marianne was one of my clients, a middle-aged woman whose husband had died the previous year. She had gone through the first holiday season, one year ago, in a state of numbness after the unexpected death of her husband in November.
As she looks back at that time, she realizes she had a kind of protective cushion around her, with all the paperwork taking up much of her time, as well as having a lot of family and friends
around to distract her from the silence and stillness.
Now, one year later, there are no more protective buffers keeping her at bay from the intense feelings of grief, and the loneliness. She, like many others, approaches the holidays with anxiety and dread.
What You Can Do
First of all, you have more than two choices here. If you are having a hard time facing the upcoming holidays, whichever ones you celebrate, there are some guidelines to lessen your anxiety
and to make things easier on yourself.
You can choose to avoid the holidays altogether. This is difficult, as there may be family and friends who become burdensome with their need for more and more explanations regarding your decision. However, if you decide you are going to choose this route, plan something for yourself that will at least have the potential for enjoyment. This could be holing up in your house for a week, with your favorite foods, some rented movies, and walks in the woods; it could be a trip to
an exotic land where you will have the distractions of foreign language, foods and locale.
Be sure to alert your family and friends to your decision, requesting that they give you the space to be alone and do what you need to do. If, however, you are clinically depressed, and/or suicidal, this option is a bad idea. Seek professional help immediately. You deserve to feel better.
Option two is to do the holidays, but to do them differently. Facing the approaching holidays when you are grieving brings on a feeling of heaviness, and to some, even suffocation. Partly,
this is due to our expectations about what the holiday should look like, based on past events. We remember all the things we usually do, the preparations that take lots of enthusiasm, thought, and energy, things you may feel short of at the moment.
What has worked for many people over the years is changing the holiday expectations by changing the rituals involved. Instead of getting a tree and trimming it in the usual way, someone may
choose instead to buy a small table tree, and just do minimal decorations. This requires much less energy and still can bring the beauty of the holiday into the house.
Others decide to do away with trees and decorations altogether. They may decide to have a family dinner and go out to a movie instead. Another person may decide to ask family or friends to bring a tree and decorate it for them.
One of the most difficult things for many women is thinking about planning and preparing big traditional meals. No problem, don?t do it. Ask someone else to be in charge of this and your job is just to show up, that is, if you decide you want to. You can prepare a side dish if you really feel like you want to contribute.
If you decide to choose option two, you will need to consult with others in your household. If you have children, give them an opportunity to offer suggestions. They may have some better
ideas than you!
Option three is to keep things the same, and to prepare the way you normally would. Many people who choose this option find that they wear themselves out and end up disappointed with the
results. If you choose this option, be flexible, as you may find that you have less energy than you thought you did. Be prepared to accept alterations, when necessary.
What Did Marianne Do?
Marianne listened as I told her about others who changed their holidays to suit their inner needs. She realized that because she was changing inside with the grief, that it was appropriate
to have a different holiday as well.
l) First of all, she decided to ?play it by ear.? She realized that she didn?t have to stick to her plan, but could make last minute changes if needed.
2) She gave herself permission to simplify. Even if you?re not grieving, this is a good idea. In her case, she decided not to send out holiday cards, to ask her friends to cook the holiday
meal, and she ordered just a few gifts online, thus avoiding the holiday shopping frenzy altogether.
3) She gave herself permission to say ?no.? This was not easy for her, but she did it anyway, and avoided going to some holiday functions that she really didn?t want to attend.
4) She created a new holiday ritual to honor the memory of her husband. She asked her family to donate money to her favorite charities instead of giving her gifts. She also asked for friends and family to take time to create a ?memory card? that she then hung on her tree. The memory card was simply a handmade card that held a handwritten memory about her husband.
5) She decided to create some special times for herself during the holidays to commune with God. In her case, this was by setting up a few hikes with a friend, in the desert near her home. She knew that Nature was healing and felt that it was important to give herself some special healing time.
6) Marianne knew that the holidays would go better if she stayed in touch with herself and her feelings. She was wise enough to know that if she tried to push away the grief, it would only grow and push out in another direction. So, she decided that when sadness came up, she?d take a breath, acknowledge the feeling and allow it to sweep through her. She realized the tears could come at any time, and she was willing to let them flow. She?d had enough experience to know that
when she did this, she felt better quicker than when she tried to control the flow.
7) She also knew that helping someone else would help her with her grief. She chose to donate some time at a women?s shelter and found that this not only took her outside of her own
situation, but it also did someone else some real good. She knew this was another way to honor her husband?s memory, by giving to someone else in need.
Remember, grief is a normal response to loss and change. It is a natural healing process that takes time. We are forever changed by the losses, especially deaths, in our lives. Our goal should not be to ?get over grief,? but rather to allow ourselves to be moved and changed by the grief, learning how to incorporate the loss in our hearts and lives as we re-define our lives.
It?s ok to grieve during the holidays because it is an acknowledgement of the change in your life and it will aid you in your healing journey. Be gentle with yourself, surrounding yourself with people who love you and who will allow you to be just where you are in each moment. Find the courage to move forward, one step at a time, and to choose to be grateful for the good things in your life.
Marcia Breitenbach is the author of The Winds of Change: A Guided Journey with Healing Music Through Grief, Loss & Transformation. She is a mother, author, musician and licensed
professional counselor living in Arizona. Visit her at: http://www.griefandlosshelpsongletter.com and receive her free inspiring songletter.
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