A season that is marked with joy for many is extraordinarily painful for those grieving the death of a loved one. This time of year can also magnify other types of losses:
- families facing the deployment of a military member
- those without family nearby
- singles dealing with loneliness or disappointment
- strained family relationships
For some, the holidays are accompanied by a sense of disappointment, compounded by media images giving the false impression that a diamond bracelet, a timely snowfall, and a bountiful dinner table can dissolve life’s troubles. How do you function during this time when it feels like everyone is going about their merry way, while your world has come to a halt?
- Practice self-care. Grief places immense stress on the body and the mind. Loss not only produces sadness, but fatigue. Be gentle with yourself, and try not to overschedule. Don’t underestimate the impact of nutrition and exercise on your body’s ability to cope with stress. The benefits of a brief walk outdoors – getting oxygen in and improving circulation—can improve your energy levels. Drinking lots of water is essential to cleansing the body and restoring energy. Nutritional support is critical. It’s not uncommon to have a lack of appetite, but even small “nibbles” throughout the day can help your body withstand the stress.
- Acknowledge that this year will be different. Routines, traditions and rituals are forever changed. You might not have the energy or desire to decorate your house, send out holiday cards or host a meal. Remove that pressure from yourself.
- Allow yourself time to memorialize your loved one during the season. It’s not unusual for a bereaved person to feel restrained in mentioning their loved one, fearing that others expect them to be “over it” within a certain timeframe. If you’re comfortable doing so, share pictures, letters, or a favorite memory at a gathering, or allow yourself quiet time for remembrance.
A word to those seeking to provide comfort to a grieving friend or family member: be aware of how your well-meaning words can hurt the bereaved. It’s wise to stay away from clichés such as, “Time heals all wounds”. The reality is that grief is not a tidy process. The person grieving is trying to find a way to live without their loved one. If you are on the receiving end of an unhelpful comment, it’s okay to let the other person know you thank them for caring, but that you need to grieve in your own time and in your own way. Grief is a journey that we will all face at one time or another. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and everyone’s story will be different.
How have you journeyed through loss? What did you find most helpful during painful times?
Elicia McIntyre, a licensed clinical social worker and graduate of Smith College School for Social Work, has 17 years’ experience providing counseling to adults, children and families in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. She has helped clients navigate life transitions, depression, anxiety, and relationship difficulties. Ms. McIntyre has also spent several years traveling nationally and overseas, providing education and intervention to military service members and their families.
This article is intended for general education purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling or medical care. If you are interested in seeking professional counseling, please call The Stone Foundation at 410-296-2004.