I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day and through
~ Irving Kahal/ Sammy Fain
The email came across my inbox at work.
“Donna, my uncle died suddenly I will be taking the next couple of days off.”
It was the second email like this in a month. Another friend, another loss. So close to the holidays.
Of course, I wrote back with the “So sorry for your loss. And let me know what I can do.”
And arranged for flowers to be sent and ordered a bulk package of sympathy cards from Amazon. Just in case.
And knew all of these gestures were nice but wouldn’t help. Because I have lost a lot of people over the years. A father when I was 25. A fiancé when I was 55—three months after my mother died. And many people and beings in between.
And survived and maybe even thrived, after a time. Even through the holidays, which can be the worst no matter how long ago the loss occurred.
How you may ask?
Here is my holiday grief survival guide:
1. Get busy. In the beginning, it helps to be busy. Because the sheer weight of grief is too much to bear. Too hard to sit with. So, dive into work, or a hobby, or a puzzle. Something that takes your attention. Books sometimes don’t work because your mind can wander. But Netflix marathons do—I recommend a funny show like “Schitt’s Creek” or “Friends.” Or disaster films because the characters usually face something terrible and then miraculously everything works out. My favorite is the “Die Hard” series. And the first two in the franchise are clearly Christmas movies (yeah, really).
2. Self-care: make a list of 10 healthy things you like to do to comfort yourself. Baths, walks outside, drives in the country, Christmas lights tours, working out, cooking. Whatever it is, pick one of these items whenever you feel blue. As a way to make your day just a little bit better. Say that to yourself: by taking a bath tonight, my day will be three percent better. In grief, we can’t go for 10 percent or 30 percent better—that sh*t’s unattainable. But three percent? Totally doable.
3. Get a grief book. My go-to is How to Survive the Loss of a Love. But there are many more. Here are a couple more: It’s OK That You’re Not OK, When Everything Falls Apart. Read from the book every morning. Make this a daily ritual. It will help to realize there are tools that can help. I promise.
4. Meditate or pray. Even if for five minutes. I use apps like 10 Percent Happier or Insight Timer. And I mostly use short-guided meditations. Even five minutes can clear your head and make a difference.
5. Remember your loved one with happy memories. There can be trauma and guilt around a person’s death. Try to release that pain by focusing on happy memories. We can feel guilty about doing this, but don’t. They would not want you to be sad. Make a photo album with happy pictures in it. Or post happy pictures of them on social media. And if you feel really stuck, seek out a therapist, grief group, or Reiki/EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) practitioner to help.
6. Start a new tradition. Find a new way to celebrate the holidays. Some ideas: decorate a new part of the house, string popcorn on the tree, make holiday crafts for the neighbors, have a caroling party on Zoom.
7. Believe in magic. One thing I know for sure is spirits do not disappear. My loved ones who have passed have come back to me. Through cardinals, or dreams, or windmills, or songs on the radio, or psychic readings. You can call on them and they will appear—you just have to believe.
They still love you. And love never dies.
And finally, know that grief comes in waves. And this too shall pass. And probably come again. But each time you can use the list above, or the one you create, to thrive through it.
What are some of the tools you have used to thrive through grief?
“I am thinking now of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart pumping hard,
I want to think again of dangerous and noble things,
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.” ~ Mary Oliver