A Personal Note on Loss and The Holidays
A few weeks ago I was talking to a patient about grief and loss around the holidays and we came to the mutual decision that grief was not a nice neat little package of stages or a linear process. In fact, it’s more like a boomerang on a rollercoaster. Grief is three-dimensional. It goes up, it comes down. Sometimes it feels miles away and other times it is hitting you in the face. Better yet, this change can happen within seconds, or days, or months. Grief is a sneaky little you-know-what, and it likes to surprise us around the holidays.
Holidays can be especially hard for those who are missing a loved one. Their absence is felt more strongly than normal. Celebrating seems repulsive, happy memories and traditions seem empty and strange. There can be a pressure and desire for normalcy around the holidays, when life feels anything but normal.
Do what is right for you. If it’s having a small celebration at home with your family, wonderful. If it’s getting the heck out of dodge and sailing away on a cruise ship, that's great too. Maybe you don’t know what you need, and that’s okay. Your friends or family may not understand what you choose, they might even be upset. It’s not about them.
There are people in your life that will be able to hold space for you and your grief. Keep these people close. There are people who will encourage you to cheer up, be happy, embrace the Christmas spirit. Don’t fake happiness for these people. It’s too exhausting. Genuine happiness, however, should be reveled in. There is no need to feel guilty for truly enjoying yourself, sharing a laugh, or eating a delicious meal. There are no rules around grief, no right or wrong ways to experience loss, no timelines to follow.
Take some moments to share in your loved one's memories in whatever shape or form feels right for you. Bake their favourite cookies, put a special ornament on the tree, or simply spend a quiet moment with them.
Last month marked 14 years since my sister passed away. Our family has had many Christmases away (like that one year, with goat curry for Christmas dinner on a tiny Caribbean island). We have had big family celebrations and filled our house with people. We have also had quiet Christmases with just us, our family. These are now my favourite, although in years gone by they would have been the hardest.
These are my experiences; you might resonate with some of these, or none. We all have our own journey on our 'boomerang rollercoaster' of grief. Hold on tight for the loops, scream, laugh, cry. The ride may not end but in my experience, it does get a little less scary.
Take care this holiday season!
Please reach out to your 'team' if you are in need of extra support over this holiday season. For additional reading on grief and the holidays, feel free to explore the following resources: