The holidays can be a joyful and uplifting time. Television specials romanticize the holidays for good reason, and Christmas music is a beloved genre. Yet, the holidays can be some of the most challenging times for those who are grieving. Cards come in the mail addressed to a loved one who has passed away, and while shopping, we see a gift that would've been perfect for a family member or friend who is no longer present with us. These situations, and much more, make this time of year difficult for grievers.
For someone dealing with grief, the holidays can make them feel isolated and alone. They may remember what these special days were like before their loved one died. They see the empty chair; they miss their smell, voice, touch, and sense of presence.
A recent study (https://www.valuepenguin.com/holiday-loneliness-survey) shows that last year, 55% of Americans experienced sadness and loneliness during the holiday season, with 36% of surveyors attributing those feelings to grief.
"Grief is not an illness you get over. It is a journey" (Kenneth Doka)
Grief is something each person must do. It's not passive. Denying losses doesn’t make the pain go away. It only intensifies the work we must do later. Mourning is both challenging and beautiful. It's hard in the sense that it's painful, and an uncharted, scary wilderness for each loss experienced. It doesn't fit into our brain space as if we were organizing a sock drawer. The grief journey is messy and seems to get tangled up in everything. However, when we come out on the other side of the wilderness, it's because we've done the work of grief and are changed into a new person. We’re more compassionate and kind. We're different. We're stronger. And in this way, grief is a gift.
Watch the video below for a quick discussion on grief during the holiday season:
5 Helpful Tips For Coping with Grief:
- Try journaling. Journaling is a powerful therapeutic conduit to express yourself. Free write. Don't worry about punctuation or grammar. Just write. Get your grief on paper. Whatever you feel, write it out, even if it doesn't make sense. It's a lament. Ancient Hebrew laments were an emotional dump on God.
- Learn to say "hello" before saying "goodbye." We must say hello to accepting the reality of the death of someone we loved before we can mourn their absence in our lives.
- Don't compare your grief journey with someone else's. It's not a competition. Comparing grief will only prove to be a futile effort. We're all unique individuals, as are the relationships we've had with loved ones who've passed.
- Come to terms with the fact that you won't get through this quickly. There are no trophies for speed. The feeling of loss will always be with you and may even be heightened during the holidays. Walk through this at a pace that works for you.
- Be gentle with yourself. Grievers often feel like they've lost their minds and are going crazy. You're not. It's normal to experience "grief brain fog" and "grief bursts." Give yourself some extra grace and permission to let go and not feel you must hold it all together. Sometimes it's okay not to be okay.
No matter where you or a loved one are on your grief journey, please know that you're not alone. We'd be honored to support you as you learn to navigate the road ahead. We invite you to visit Interim's bereavement website as a starting point to find the resources you need:
About the author: Scott Linnerud has 30 years of pastoral experience in both the Midwest and South. In June 2017, he completed a chaplain residency at Spartanburg Regional Hospital System in Spartanburg, SC. Following his residency, Scott began his hospice journey as a Spiritual Care Counselor with Interim HealthCare Hospice. Along with seeing patients, he is now Interim HealthCare of the Upstate and Midlands’ Bereavement Program Manager, providing ongoing grief support for patient families and the community.