By Stephanie Seabrooke
The holidays are a time of year when we’re expected to be joyful. Right after Thanksgiving, it seems like our social media feeds are full of happy families baking cookies, opening gifts, and hanging decorations. Holiday themed movies and commercials air non-stop, and invitations to parties begin to pile up. But for those wrestling with loss or grief, the holidays are often a period of overwhelming sadness and isolation. A divorce can tarnish memories and traditions that were once cherished. The absence of a loved one who has passed may cast a shadow over your holiday family dinner. An unexpected hardship such as a layoff will likely mean stress over paying bills instead of shopping for the perfect gift. And the heartache of a miscarriage can turn the hustle and bustle of the season into a numbing blur. Add on the pressure to still create the perfect holiday for your kids, and coping with painful emotions during this time of year can seem like an impossible task.
Fortunately, there are tactics you can use to manage the complicated feelings that accompany loss or grief so you can help your family emerge from this difficult period with renewed hope.
Adjust your expectations
When faced with challenging circumstances, it can be tempting to cling to memories of the past instead of embracing change. Be realistic with yourself and accept that the holidays will be different this year. Resist the urge to feel guilty about not being able to give your family a picture-perfect holiday, and instead use this period of transition as an opportunity to create new memories and traditions. If money is tight due to a layoff or divorce, have a “craft day” and encourage your kids to create homemade gifts. While you’re mourning the loss of a loved one, keep their spirit alive by baking their favorite holiday treat and sharing it with your colleagues. Accepting that change as an inevitable part of life is one of the most effective ways to cope with hardship.
Process your feelings
Expressing emotions like anger, sadness, and fear is often frowned upon in our society, but giving yourself permission to experience the complex feelings that accompany an unexpected misfortune like a miscarriage is the only way you can begin to heal. Go ahead and cry if you feel the urge, and don’t be afraid to vent your frustration to a trusted friend. You can also explore creative outlets like painting, ceramics, or journaling as a positive way to work through this difficult time. Keep in mind that there’s no definite end to a period of grieving, but also allow yourself to experience the moments of joy that can come with the holiday season.
Ask for support
The turbulence of a life changing event like death or divorce can be all encompassing, and the urge to isolate ourselves as we navigate difficult circumstances is natural. But it’s during times of loss and hardship that we most benefit from a strong support system around us. Communicate how you’re feeling and what you need so you can surround yourself with people who care. If you need a few hours of alone time and your sister is taking her kids to the movies, see if your kids can tag along. Let your extended family know that hosting the holiday dinner this year will be too emotionally painful for you and ask if someone else can take over. If you don’t have friends or family in your area, seek out a local grief support group so you can connect with others who are coping with loss. Reach out so that you don’t have to shoulder your burdens alone.
Doing for others can be a tremendous source of comfort during a period of personal loss, especially during the holidays. It’s important to remember that the true spirit of the season is about gratitude, not gifts, trees, or decorations. Remind your kids that while this year has been hard, they still have much to be thankful for. Take them to a soup kitchen so they can volunteer serving a holiday meal to those in need, or ask them to set aside a small part of their allowance so they can sponsor an underprivileged child. By making time to serve your community, you’ll be showing your family that even though bad things happen, there is still plenty of hope and love in the world.
Coping with loss or grief is never easy, but the heightened expectations of the holidays can make a period of personal hardship even more painful. By accepting change, giving yourself space to grieve, creating a support system, and keeping a spirit of gratitude, you can help your family enjoy the holiday season while looking ahead to a brighter future.
If you would like to discuss this matter with Coach Gina and our Circle4Parents community, please sign-up for our upcoming session Grief & Loneliness – Dec. 12th.