Monday, December 9, 2013

When Christmas Hurts ...

Hello, everyone. It's good to be back in Vancouver again after a very successful month's writing in Ontario.

However, all is not as I left it a month ago. Several of my friends are hurting and will have a difficult holiday season this year - two have lost husbands unexpectedly, one has had surgery and another, a life changing diagnosis.

In addition, two other friends, the sister and brother-in-law of The Rev Dave Dingwall, the Episcopal priest who died in the bizarre church rectory fire in Ocean City, MD, are attending funerals rather than planning their baby's first Christmas. And even Jan Richardson, the wonderful writer whose blessings have graced several of my blog posts, is grieving the sudden death of her husband, musician Garrison Doles, following surgery for a cerebral aneurysm. So much grief in what we anticipate as a joyous time of year.

Many of you will be experiencing bereavement grief or chronic sorrow this holiday season, as well, and will be wondering how on earth you are going to get through the festivities and make it to the end of the year. There's no easy answer to that question. In fact, there are as many answers as there are situations. How you choose to cope with the holidays needs to be tailored to your individual needs and circumstances.

That said, here are a few options to consider that might help:

1.  Talk about your grief if you can. Don't be afraid to express your feelings if you want to. Ignoring them won't make you feel any better and talking about them with someone you trust to hear you without judging can help to relieve some of the pressure. If there's no one you feel comfortable talking with, consider writing your thoughts and feelings in a journal instead.

2.  Recognize your limits.  Be at least as kind to yourself as you would be to your best friend. Don't insist on a perfect holiday. Keep things simple. Recognize that grieving takes a lot of energy and allow yourself to scale back, to rest frequently and to ask others for help. (Most of us have some friends who would give anything to be a practical help to a grieving friend. Your request for help is a gift to them as well as to yourself.)

3. Be with people who feel safe and comfortable. Make a list of people you can be yourself with, happy or sad, warts and all, and choose to spend your time with these people. Their love and support is the most important gift you can give yourself at this time of year.

4. If someone has died, talk about them.  Include them in your day-to-day conversation. Consider a ritual to remember them during the holidays - light a candle at their place at the table, sing their favourite carols or holiday songs, say a prayer of thanksgiving for them before your holiday meal.

5. Use distraction consciously. Everyone will tell you that it's important to feel, feel, feel while you're grieving but sometimes feeling can become overwhelming. In cases like these, make a conscious choice to distract yourself in a healthy way - go for a walk, change the subject, turn on the TV, talk to a funny friend, clean the house. Chosen consciously, these activities will help you to pace painful emotions.

6.  Give yourself an out. Give yourself permission to plan what you need for the holidays rather than what others think you should do. Make plans to spend time with loved ones but explain ahead of time that you might not be able to follow through when the time comes. Or apologize in advance in case you have to leave a celebration early.

7. Practice your faith.  The holidays may spark in you a deepening of faith or a desire to seek out new belief systems. If your faith is important to you, make time for the practices that matter - attend a religious service or take a walk in nature or attend a retreat or meditate or pray. Spend time with people who understand and accept your spiritual beliefs.

These are just a few ideas for those of you facing a painful holiday season. If you have some others that have worked for you, please do share them for the benefit of us all.

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