Surviving the holidays

When we have lost a loved one, the festive holidays are often a time we would rather skip as so many things will remind us that someone is missing and that, in turn, hurts. We may feel like just going to sleep and when we wake up, the festivities are all over.

Instead, you see others buying gifts for their loved ones and it reminds you of the gift that you now don’t have to buy. You see others gather around as a family and you feel a profound loss as you realise that your family is now less than complete. At the same time, you are concerned if your children are able to enjoy the holidays as they did in the previous years before the loss.

Emotions will start pouring in like a flood and the level of pain may take you by surprise. You must take these emotional ambushes as part and parcel of the grieving process. If you feel like crying, just go ahead and cry, even if you are in front of others. You don’t have to feel apologetic about it.

When emotions are high, you may start to entertain suicidal thoughts. While simply wanting the pain to go away and yearning for the presence of your loved one is normal, deliberating on plans to hurt yourself is not. If such is the case, you must immediately tell someone who can give you good counsel and help you take the necessary preventive measures.

While it may be impossible to totally escape the painful memories of our loss that festive holidays may bring, below are 10 tips on how we can make such times less threatening:

  1. Accept the fact that the holiday season is going to be tough. Take one day at a time.
  1. Do not try to numb your emotions by indulging in alcohol, drugs, excessive spending, busyness, parties or fantasies as the after-effect of waking up to reality may be even worse.
  1. You don’t need to live up to the expectations of others as everybody will think that they know what is best for you. If you don’t speak up, you will end up feeling trapped by what they want for you instead of what you want for yourself.
  1. Give yourself permission to decline invitations for gatherings if you don’t feel like going. Thank them for the invitations and encourage them to invite you again the next time round.
  1. If you are going for a gathering, don’t over-estimate your social stamina. Tell your host in advance that you may not be able to stay the entire time as you don’t know how you are going to feel that day.
  1. When you go to a social gathering, invite one or two close friends who understand you well to go with you and stay around you the whole time.
  1. As you approach the holidays, you will be faced with a load of chores, responsibilities, traditions and expectations. Decide in advance what is important to you and what you want to cut off or scale down. As you are in grief, do not overburden yourself with activities or traditions but focus on making the holiday more meaningful.
  1. You may choose to start a new tradition like sharing memories of how the family spent the previous holidays with the deceased loved one or visiting the grave on the first day of the New Year.
  1. If you wish to avoid crowds, you may choose to make your visits to relatives and friends either before or after the actual festive days.
  1. If you have children, involve them in the planning process as this will help in their healing.

The festive holidays are never going to be the same after a loss. We must be aware of our current limitations and pace ourselves. Grieving is exhausting and we are not able to do all the things we used to do in the past. During such a season, it is good to keep a healthy balance between time with others and time alone. Despite the festive atmosphere, we still need the time for quiet reflection as this is good for our emotional health and recovery.

Text edited from GGP Outreach, which seeks to provide a supportive role in journeying alongside grieving persons, and at the same time, facilitate involvement and care for  grieving persons by others.