Coping With The Holidays
The Road To Recovery
Published by: International Order of the Golden Rule
Holidays. They can be the most joyous or the most painful days of the year, depending on how, and if, you’re prepared for them. Holidays are especially difficult if you’ve recently lost the love of another person through death. By planning ahead, however, and dealing realistically with your holiday expectations, you can help ensure your days are filled with peaceful satisfaction rather than painful sadness. Holidays aren’t just “something to be gotten through.” They should be a time for rejuvenation and reflection.
Whether this holiday season is the first or the 40th, you’ve faced since losing a loved one, there are some special considerations you need to think about while making your holiday plans. The first years after the loss of a loved one are the most difficult, and it is these days this booklet focuses on.
Notice in the sentence above, it says: “the first years” are the most difficult. Not the first hours, the first days, or the first months, but the first years. It is important for you to realize that your loss is going to require an adjustment in your life. This is especially true around the holidays. Traditions may change, the amount of entertaining you do will likely be altered, and your celebrations may be somewhat tempered. Before reading any further, it is important to accept and admit this to yourself. If you can do this, you are halfway to the point of being able to enjoy peaceful and pain-free holidays.
Initially, the most difficult part about facing a holiday, or an entire holiday season, is the fear about how awful the day is going to be. Often, the anticipation prior to the event is worse than the day itself due to the worry about surviving the occasion. Looking ahead and imagining what the day will be like tends to intensify any feelings of grief because we’re reminded of the lost love. Holidays also are a means of marking the passage of time, and that too can be a painful reminder.
Writing down your fears in advance of a holiday will help you express your feelings. When writing, be entirely honest with yourself; it will help you gain control over your feelings. Clarifying your thoughts will help you feel less overwhelmed, especially when you begin to view the holiday as being made up of many small events rather than endless commitments and demands.
Actively participating in holiday activities, instead of thinking about what used to be, is a good way to begin your “holiday healing.” By planning ahead, you’ll have a grasp of what you do and do not want to do. This will prevent you from having to make decisions under pressure and give you the strength to say no if necessary. Also, by being well-organized, you’ll enable yourself to limit the amount of activity you plan while using your time efficiently during the holiday(s). You’ll be able to build “quiet time” into your schedule without resenting having too much to do in a short period of time.
Holidays are naturally demanding- whether you’ve lost a loved one or not. They usually require entertaining or being entertained, shopping, commitments to spend time with family and friends, extra housework and cooking, etc.
If you’re invited to do something you’d rather not do, be tentative in giving your answer. An honest but brief explanation of how you’ve been feeling lately will be understood and will allow you flexibility. Simply tell your host or hostess that some days are better than others since your loss, and if you’re feeling up to it, you’d love to attend. This way, no firm commitment has been made, yet you still have the opportunity to enjoy the company of friends if you desire. This allows you to observe realistic limits in your routine.
You may find that getting into the “holiday spirit” is difficult for you this year. That’s okay. If you’re not ready to celebrate this year, don’t. IF you have small children, however, you’ll need to discuss any holiday changes with them so that they don’t feel punished or confused. If they are suffering from a loss, a traditional family celebration might be good for them. Chances are, even if you don’t feel up to it, you’ll be able to count on family members to help make the holiday as “normal” as possible for your children. If you need help, discuss it is advance with members of your family so that the day will run smoothly.
Decorating for the holidays, although it may seem like more work that it is worth, will bring warmth into your home and should not be avoided. If purchasing and decorating a tree seems over-whelming to you, let your children, other family members, neighbors or friends help you. They’ll provide valuable companionship and help make the project a special event rather than a chore. Once the decorating is done, you’ll be happy to have the seasonal reminder that life is continuing on and so must you.
If you find yourself alone for the holidays, take advantage of the time and pamper yourself. Get a book you’ve been wanting to read, write letters that are overdue, treat yourself to a special meal, or call a friend who may also be alone. Being alone does not necessarily mean being lonely though, and you may find your enjoy the time to think and reflect. If you know in advance that you don’t want to be by yourself, plan not to be. It may be mean calling family or friends and suggesting a special holiday activity, but it’s a way for you to let them know you’d like to spend time with them. Fellowship with others often is the best medicine for a grieving heart.
Regardless of how many commitments you have over the holidays, the most important this to remember is to keep things simple. Say no to invitations you’d rather not accept, and don’t bee afraid to express your feelings. If you want to cry, do. If you need to talk about how you are feeling, do. If you want to be alone, it’s okay as long as you continue to reach out to others on occasion.
Above all, take the time necessary to be in touch with your feelings and expectations and react accordingly. If you do, you’ll find you’re actually enjoying the holidays rather than just coping with them.