December 23, 2023

How to Navigate the Holidays Even if You are Grieving.

The bright lights, decorated trees, glowing candles, and holiday music seem to be everywhere.

Where is my sense of anticipation and excitement about Christmas this year? The holiday hype rings hollow as my heart is grieving. I am conscious of the loss of this past year and I am aware of the lack of congruency between what society seems to expect and what my heart is feeling.

I am experiencing the paradox that often goes unspoken during this season. This can be seen as an anomaly between my emotions and the pressure to be jolly and upbeat. I see myself as an aberration if I let my authentic self show up.

As I think back over this past year, I realize that it is no wonder I feel sad. A favourite aunt of mine died without me getting a chance to say goodbye. A dear friend who was a gifted musician and storyteller died a few months ago. My husband’s parents died within four months of each other and they have left a big hole in our family. This is our first Christmas without them and grief sneaks up unexpectedly. A favourite song of theirs brings tears to my eyes. Baking cookies from an old family recipe reminds me of their generous hospitality in past years.

I know I am not alone in my sorrow and loneliness. The dark days can seem endless, especially as we mark the Winter Solstice and the short hours of daylight. Even though you may also be suffering loss, I am here to offer some nuggets of comfort and peace for all of us.

Here are some of the ways I am learning to move through this season of celebration in the midst of my grief.

1. I allow my emotions to be present. I feel the hot sting of tears on my cheeks and I take deep, raggedy breaths as I cry and give my emotions freedom to flow. I used to think that if I started crying I would never stop. I stuffed down my sadness in an effort to be strong and stoic. I no longer do that. Emotions are like a wave that moves through my body with a peak that eventually eases its intensity.

2. I seek out support from friends who know what it’s like to experience loss. My husband and I had lunch with a friend whose husband died recently. As we shared our stories there was joy alongside the sadness. We felt the flow of love and support as we sat together with the pain of saying goodbye to our loved ones.

3. In the Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu talk about grief and loss. I am encouraged by the phrase, “Grief is the reminder of the depth of our love. Without love, there is no grief.” This helps me to accept my sorrow instead of pushing it aside. I remember my loved ones and feel a closeness to them as I linger in the sadness.

4. I am dropping the “shoulds” this holiday season. I choose to keep holiday traditions that bring me joy, rather than mindlessly pushing myself to keep up with all the activities that I may have done other years. I am nurtured as I write loving notes in my Christmas cards and bake cookies from my mother-in-law’s favourite recipes.

5. I am practising being kind to myself. This includes lowering my expectations of how much energy I have for holiday events. I choose activities that are life-giving and I say no to those that are draining. I ask for help as our family plans our festive gatherings. I go for walks in nature, eat nourishing food, and snuggle under the quilt for a delicious nap.

6. I release the pressure to compare myself to others. I keep it simple and focus on what my heart desires. I want to give and receive love. Memories are made up of how people feel in my presence. Being honest about the mystery of feeling sadness in the midst of the holiday season may well be a relief to my family and friends.

How will you care for yourself during this time of ambiguous emotions?

Let us remember that our presence is the gift that will be most precious. A peaceful, calm, and loving energy will be a treasure for you and others. Christmas can be a stark reminder of loss. And, it is also a rich time of remembering the relationships that never really end. This is my Christmas wish for you.


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