Dealing with loss over the holidays: take the pressure off yourself

The holiday season can be a difficult time for many of us. All around us we see, we hear and we feel the pressure to celebrate. Invitations to holiday parties, Christmas carols, bright lights and decorations, all suggest we should be happy. But we’re not. We are struggling. If we are struggling with a loss of a loved one, someone in our life is missing. What do you do at this time when we’re supposed to be happy and jolly?

One thing you can do is to take the pressure off yourself. It is okay to dial down your involvement in the holiday season. Now I know that other people may have expectations of you, but they don’t know how you’re feeling. Trust yourself. You can reduce the number of things that you do. Grieving takes energy. Physical energy is needed to grieve. This means you won’t be able to do all that you did before the loss. This is normal. If you have expectations of yourself to continue doing what we did before, that pressure can only add to your grief. So, give yourself a break.

Now, I don’t mean isolate yourself. Spending time with other people can help us get through. It is helpful to be around people who understand and are supportive of where we are in our grieving. And if they don’t understand, you can try sharing with them what you are going through. If necessary, spend less time with them. Often, if there is a loss in your family, or within a friend group, the entire group is grieving. And thus, it may be difficult for people to be there for each other. Again, this does not mean that your feelings are wrong. Everyone grieves differently.

Several years ago, I was working with a mom and her two children (age 12 and 10 years old) that had lost their husband/father to suicide. Christmas had been a great time for the family, but of course they were really struggling with how to deal with the grief through the holidays. So, we talked about how to make it through. It is important not to avoid your feelings and push them away because they tend to get stronger. It can help to somehow incorporate the loved one in the holiday season, so the family decided they would hang all the stockings out, including his, on the mantle. Whenever they wanted to express something to him, whether it was sadness that he wasn’t there or anger at what he had done or just “Merry Christmas Dad, I miss you”. They would write a note and put it in his stocking. It was a way of expressing their feelings, so they could also have some enjoyment of the holiday season. So that’s what they did. At the end of the season they burned the notes. And no, it didn’t make Christmas great again. It did help relieve the pressure. It gave them somewhere to put their grief. This example leads me to the second thing that could be helpful in this holiday season. Find a way to express your grief. Pushing it away and attempting to distract yourself will only work for a time; a very short time. Grief does not disappear, even though we would love that to happen. Healing happens when we release our grief a little bit at a time. It’s a process; but one that can eventually bring us some peace. And that is what my wish for you this holiday season is to find some moments of peace.

Counsellor and therapist Joelle McKiernan is the owner of Mourning’s Dawn Counselling in the Terrace and Kitimat area.

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