COLUMN: Wellness Matters by Joelle McKiernan

Surviving the holiday season with a smile

By Joelle McKiernan

The holidays are fast approaching and with it, all the usual things; family meals, shopping, songs, lights, and even Santa. This is supposed to be a happy time to celebrate.

However, especially during the holidays, we can feel the loss of loved ones that are not here any longer. And it can be difficult to see so many people around us with their loved ones and feel the hurt and unfairness that loss brings.

Also, during the holiday season, the ebb and flow of grief can overwhelm us with waves of emotions and memories. Grief will magnify the stress that is already a part of the holiday season. What else can we do to survive the emptiness we feel when it seems everyone else is overflowing with joy?

Number one rule to survive the holidays is Be Kind to Yourself. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. Don’t fall prey to the belief that you have to feel a certain way or do certain things for your holiday to be “normal.”

Being kind to yourself includes getting the rest and nourishment you need. Don’t take on any more than you can handle. If you need to be alone, honour that. If you crave the company and affection of others, seek it out. Do whatever it is that feels right to you.

The holiday season can be a tough time to be strong and independent. You may need the help and support of others to get through. And no, you are not a burden! Don’t forget that people get immense satisfaction and joy from helping those they care about. In times of grief, other people want to help but often don’t know how. This is the time for you to speak up and make your needs known. If you need someone to help you with meals, shopping, or decorating, tell them so. They will be delighted to feel like they are helping you in some way.

Expressing your feelings is the best way to get through them. Friends and relatives can be a great support to us during times of grief.

However, they are sometimes full of their own grief or so caught up in the business of the holidays that they cannot be a support to you. That does not mean your feelings aren’t valid. Find other ways to express yourself. If you feel sad, allow the tears to come; if you feel angry, allow yourself to vent some steam; yell, scream, stomp your feet (in a private place). Throughout the season, you can write your feelings down in a journal and then at the end of the holiday, burn the pages or rip them up and let them go.

Most of us like to help others during the holiday season. Like dropping our change in the charity basket or donating to a place for those in need. This can help us feel like we are contributing to a greater good. Helping others in times of grief can help take the focus off yourself and your pain. Volunteering at a nursing home, shelter, or soup kitchen can be therapeutic. But even helping a friend or family member in need can be healing.

As hard as it is for you right now, the holiday will end. You will make it through the holidays in one piece. It may be the most difficult season in your time of grief, but it will pass. And when it does, you will come out on the other side stronger than before. Remember, the loved one is still with us – in our thoughts, in our memories, in our pictures. They left their mark on our lives – that can be part of their legacy.

However, if you have thoughts or plans of self-harm please call the suicide hotline in BC at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433). The pain passes so you need to stay safe until then.

You don’t have to enjoy the holidays. You don’t even have to go through the motions pretending to enjoy the festivities. But it’s also just fine to have a good time despite your grief. If you find some happiness slips through, allow it to happen and enjoy it. You won’t be doing your loved one any injustice by feeling joyous. The best gift you can give anyone you love, even someone you have lost, is being true to yourself and living your life to the fullest.

Joelle McKiernan is a professional counsellor and therapist in the Terrace and Kitimat area. Wellness Matters is one of four columns by local writers that explore Northwest food, music, art and mental wellness.

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