Dreading the Holi-DAZE this Year?
If you have suffered a significant loss this year, we invite you to give yourself permission to grieve. Not all holiday seasons have to be "happy".
It’s November 2021. Guess what? The Holidays have officially arrived. After 20 months of pandemic affliction causing widespread losses of all types – job, income, freedom, security, and worst of all, loss of life – are you looking forward to the Season’s Greetings, or are you more in a Holi-DAZE? If your family looks nothing like the latest yummy-ummy Publix commercial, take a deep breath. You are NOT alone. Many families have suffered an unexpected death since March 2020.
And due to numerous Covid restrictions, many family members last year were denied an opportunity for ritualized closure -- and the scrap of relief that comes from saying a “proper goodbye”. Because we were still in lockdown during 2020, the 2021 Holiday season may feel like the first year after losing a loved one. Either way, if you are feeling sad this time of year following a loss of any type, SoulSpring Counseling invites you to give yourself permission to grieve.
The first holiday season after a loss can arouse more anxiety -- and even dread, than expectation of excitement and joy. Let us be clear: anxious and sad feelings during the holidays are normal. Whether it's Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanza or Christmas, holidays often highlight the absence of a loved one and overshadow the celebratory experience they're meant to be.
“When someone we love has died, the holidays can be so very painful. The heart of the holidays has been torn apart. Without love, what is life? Without the people we love, what are the holidays?” -- Alan Wolfelt
If you can relate, please know it is okay to have an “un-holiday” this year. What that means is you can avoid any, or all, of the typical shopping, decorating, cooking, visiting, or any other activity that goes along with your holiday events. OR you can select a few activities that are comfortable for you and disregard the rest.
Coping with Holiday Grief
We invite you to give yourself permission to avoid the music, the gatherings, and the gift exchanges that typically fill up your calendars every holiday season. As an “early griever”, you may feel overwhelmed being in groups and crowds that are so painfully happy. “Happy Holidays!” “Merry Christmas!” “Happy Hanukkah!” “Happy New Year!” “Happy Kwanza!” "Smile. Laugh. Drink. Drink. Laugh. Smile." “Be full of good cheer.” “Love and joy come to you.” “Rock around the Christmas Tree!”
Ugh. We invite you to abstain from any forced smile-making or any fake merrymaking this year. We encourage you to feel your pain and let the tears flow. If this is a year you need to spend the holidays in bed, by all means, grieve in the way that feels right to you.
Let’s normalize that death and grief are no respecter of time or of persons. Let’s accept that some holiday seasons can be agonizingly painful. Let’s give ourselves permission that we don’t always have to “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.”
Dealing with Grief and Loss
SoulSpring Counseling’s newest therapist, Cindy Gourley LMHC, lost both of her parents in one year. She is very familiar with holiday sadness. She shares her story:
“The first holidays after the death of my parents, I felt hollow. I went through the motions, mostly for my daughter’s sake, but I did not feel my usual joy as we decorated and bought presents for each other. Another realization, there were no more of Nana’s Christmas cookies, forever, because there would be no more Nana, forever. That was a big concept to absorb: “forever”. I realized I would miss her shortbread cookies and her presence for the rest of my life. Those cookies embodied everything I loved about Nana and about Christmas. And I still miss being able to call my dad for advice. Many years have passed since that first year of grieving. I still feel the pain of my parents’ absence, but I have found a way to include them with new memory-making rituals. After going through this experience and assisting thousands of grievers over the years, I learned some valuable tips that I share with others enduring this process.”
Cindy encourages grievers to inform their friends and family what they feel up to this season, and on what activities they’ll need to pass. Advocating for yourself is appropriate, acceptable and healthy! It is also okay to change your mind at will. You may decide the day of an event to attend or to cancel depending upon how you feel that day. The reality is you won’t really know how you will feel until that day unfolds, and it may surprise you either way. Anticipating an event or a day is sometimes worse than when it arrives. She does suggest having an escape route if you decide to attend a function, and to warn the host/hostess ahead of time that you hope to make an appearance but if you don’t stay for the entire event, please do not be offended as you are still adjusting to life without your person.
Coping with the Holi-DAZE
So, what does help when faced with the Holi-DAZE?
“During our time of grief, the very rituals of the holidays can help us survive them.” -- Alan Wolfelt
The power of rituals can signify and honor our absent loved one. Find a ritual that feels right to you. You might light a candle, talk to your absent loved one, read a poem, a passage of Scripture or other important text to you. You might set a place setting at your holiday table for them; toast them; have everyone share one of their favorite stories about them, or donate in their memory.
Cindy still talks to her parents, asks their advice and expresses her gratitude for being their daughter, every day. She states, “Although mine cannot compare, I do make Nana’s Christmas shortbread cookies, with my own twist.” The important thing is to continue to include your loved ones in your life in a tangible way. It is never about forgetting or “moving on”. Rather, it’s about ongoing inclusion and honoring of their memory. Our love goes on forever, as long as WE live.
“I’m homesick for you. I will look for ways to mourn you during the rituals of the holidays.”
-- Alan Wolfelt
You do not have to navigate the holidays alone. Work with SoulSpring Counselor Cindy Gourley LMHC. She has the experience and knowledge to help you through your "first holiday without".
Let us be a shoulder you lean on! For a free consultation regarding how Grief and Loss Therapy may help you, please call (561) 463-3078.
We are here for you.
Thank you so much to #teamsoulspring counselor Cindy Gourley LMHC. for her contribution to the content of this article.