The experience of grief is unique to every individual, but during the holidays feelings of sadness and grief that may arise tend to be stronger than at other times during the year. During the holidays we may be going about our daily schedules and suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, sadness stirs inside us with a tremendous sense of loneliness, vivid memories of a person or event that resurface, or acute feelings of loss around missing a friend or family member who has passed away or is far from us. It can cause us to lose our focus and feel like we are imploding at one of the busiest times of the year. When this happens to a client, a student, or even to me, I have one very surprising recommendation—go right into every feeling! This may sound scary, maybe even jumping-off-a-cliff scary, but I assure you that grief cannot be walked around it needs to be walked through. It is by taking that step into the abyss of your grief that you are most likely to find the loving peace and relief that your heart desires. It is not wallowing in your sadness it is about accepting that the feelings of grief or sadness are there and honoring their presence in your life.
During the holidays there is an energy of constant motion. We rush along, doing, doing, doing, and thinking we have to keep going, because there is just so much to do before Christmas! We are constantly under pressure to finish tasks, get ahead of schedule, get things out of the way, and (ad here what ever comes to you). Maybe a little edge of panic creeps in too. Are you feeling what I mean as you read? On top of all this, maybe one morning you arise with a visceral feeling of awakened grief or sadness to go along with all those thoughts of having so much to do, so many places to go, maybe even a party to attend. You tell yourself, just keep going, don’t think about it, tomorrow will be better. So you finish the shopping, walk around in a blur, and continue to trudge through the day until you drop. And this could be literal rather than figurative! Please do not do this to yourself. Ignoring feelings, constantly setting them aside, is terribly hard on your heart and your spirit. When you shove aside your feelings, especially during stressful times, all you get is suffering in the midst of all the distraction. There is no peace, because even though you push it away saying quietly to yourself, not now, I can pass out tonight when all is done, when you wake in the morning, it is still there.
I invite you now to start each day differently by acknowledging your feelings of sadness and grief. If necessary have a quiet conversation with those feelings: Hello sadness, I know you are there. What can we do today to love ourselves? This is much like what you might say to a child who is feeling sad. You would not push a child to keep going no matter what. You might make him or her chicken noodle soup or cookies! When you think of your feelings of sadness think comfort and love. Wonderful images come to mind with this train of thought. No one escapes pain in this lifetime but suffering is optional.
Here are some simple steps that you can build upon and personalize in your own way:
Step one: Verbally acknowledge to yourself that you are actively going through a grief cycle.
Step 2: Spend your free time only with people that love you unconditionally. They will intuitively know you are sad, because they will hear it in your voice. Tell them what is going on for you. Don’t be afraid to say something like, “I am so sad today. I miss________ .I remember when__________.” Say it and let them love you through it.
Step 3: Be careful of the fact that you may try and distract yourself from your feelings. Be aware of it, and consider enlisting the help of a close friend. You might even say something like; “I buried myself in work today so as not to think about _____________.” At the very least you will have acknowledged the feelings and expressed them.
Step 4: Take care of yourself. Emotions can be more draining as they are released than you may know! Rest. Treat yourself they way you would treat a child when they are sad.
December 31st, 2012 will be the second anniversary of my mother’s transition. You might think that doing what I do for almost 15 years now, my feelings of grief might be less or different, but the truth is that my experiences grief, especially during the holidays, is every bit as strong as it was before I ever became involved in hospice. The truth is that grief cannot be walked around. It has to be walked through. “How” we walk through our sadness and grief is part of what we experience as humans when a loved one is no longer with us. With all of the spiritual work we do, death and grief is one of those VERY human aspects of ourselves we need to allow ourselves to feel.
My memories of Mom bring me peace even as I still feel my grief. Her love, laughter and smile are forever in my heart. What a gift this is. I have gratitude that I was so incredibly loved by her, and that I had the time I did with her on earth. I will always miss her. That will never go away, but I know without a doubt she is always with me.
Wishing you peace, love and laughter during the holidays.