Tuesday, November 27, 2012

15 Simple Suggestions for A December Grief ...

The holidays?

Most of us grievers
would just as soon be sick through 
the whole shebang!

Meg Woodson

Whether you are a family caregiver coping with episodes of holiday-triggered chronic sorrow or a helping professional deep-sixing accumulated grief after a series of workplace deaths or a bereaved former caregiver facing your first aching holiday season without your partner, friend, parent or child, a December grief can be a cold and unwelcome experience. How does one grieve in a world alight with joy and anticipation?

There are only individual answers to this question but it may help to hear some of the suggestions penned and spoken by those who have walked the path of holiday grief before you:

1. Don't let anyone take your grief away. It is yours, your pathway to healing, and you need it to knit together the pieces of your broken life.
2.  It's your holiday and you can cry if you want to. Crying alone or with loved ones can be deeply healing and will ease the stress of holding back the tears. If you want to cry and find that you can't, try using a movie, poem, story or piece of music that has triggered your tears in the past.  
3.  Count on having an imperfect holiday. It removes the pressure and you won't be disappointed through having unrealistic expectations.
4.  Listen to your body as you make your plans. If a proposed plan makes you clench and causes your heart to race, don't follow it.
5.  Choose the aspects of the holidays that you find most comforting - the card writing, the baking, the religious rituals, the lights and decorations, the music, the entertaining, spending time with children, phoning old friends, attending plays or concerts, taking a vacation. Focus on those parts and leave the rest for next year. If nothing appeals and you just want to go to bed and cover your head with a comforter, that's fine too.
6.  Beware the unconscious numbing of painful feelings through compulsively eating holiday sweets, drinking alcohol, taking prescription drugs, over-exercising, over-spending, surfing the internet, and other "socially acceptable" practices. They may help the pain in the short term but they will complicate your grief over the long haul.
7.  The holidays are full of activities and invitations. Your first response may be, "I can't do this." Consider trying. Stay only as long as you're comfortable. Arrive late, leave early. Tell your hosts that you won't know how you will feel until the time comes and excuse yourself in advance for leaving early or not arriving at all.
8.  Create space to be alone. Leave time to be alone to absorb your feelings. You can use times of solitude to allow memories, both good and bad, to surface. It is also a good time for self-care. You may find you need more rest than you do normally. 
9.  Buy and wrap a gift to place under the tree to replace the one your loved one would have given you. (Or ask a friend to do your ill loved one's shopping.) It won't be the same, but it may help to fill the gap.
10.  When you're out and about, carry a list of phone numbers of close friends and family members you can trust to be understanding and supportive. Call one of them if you find that your grief has been triggered by reminders of life before the illness or the death. If you can't reach the first person you call, call the next one on the list and continue until you find someone who will give you a kindly ear and a telephone hug.
11.  Spend time with other grievers who understand your situation. It can help to be with others who understand without much explanation.
12.  Consider attending a "Blue Christmas" or similar service during the weeks before the holiday. (They're usually listed in your neighbourhood newspaper or on the Internet.) 
These services for people who are sad at the holidays are usually small, quiet, candle-lit gatherings with sensitive readings, soft music and reflective addresses designed to help you grieve as others celebrate. They are generally arranged so that you can stay for a cup of tea and support afterwards or slip away into the night.
13.  Journal your grief, your anger and your gratitude. The holidays tend to offer many opportunities to bite your tongue as people make inept attempts to comfort you. It's better to write your feelings in your journal than to act them out in the moment. 
Over time, your journal writings can also help to balance your remembrance of life before the illness or before your loved one's death. (Many of us pine for an idealized past that never actually existed.) Date your entries so you can look back and track your experience over time.
14.  Visit the cemetery or scattering ground. There is nothing morbid about visiting a loved one's grave. You might want to ask someone to drive you there but not visit the grave with you or you might want to go alone and then visit with a supportive friend afterward. 
You could take a wreath, fresh flowers, or a candle to decorate the grave. (And, perhaps, an unremembered grave of someone unknown to you.) You could also read a favourite passage, say a prayer, share your holiday plans, or just sit and share the silence. (Take a warm rug or a hot water bottle to hold if you want to sit awhile.)
15.  Ease the work of the holidays.  Be careful not to overwork. Pay someone to clean your house or ask several family members and friends to help with an hour-long cleaning blitz. Use wreaths and greenery to decorate your home instead of putting up a tree. Cut back decorations to a few favourites. Buy your baking. Draw for family gifts. Shop using the Internet or catalogues. Give gift certificates. Have a pot-luck holiday dinner, order in, or go out for a meal - or just gather for dessert and coffee at someone else's house.
 Whatever your final plans, may each of you who grieves this holiday season find love and comfort in the warm embrace of family and friends.

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