By Dr. Beverly Rodgers
In the last two years we have treated grief and loss more that perhaps our entire 43 years of being therapists. Grief is all around us. So many people have a loss of a friend, relative, close family member, pet or spouse. Many have lost several people close to them. We know people who have lost a parent and a spouse within months of each other due to the pandemic in one way or another. Grief is painful and the Holidays underscore that pain. The empty seat at the tables, the missing family dish that only that lost loved-one can make. These realities can be painful. Missing and longing for what is not hurts us at a deep level!
There are various stages of grief that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross gave us in 1969. They are shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Everybody grieves differently. You may move through theses stages one after another but most people bounce back and forth until they resolve their painful reality. We can’t take that pain away but we can be there to ease it in one way or another and this article can provide you with some suggestions to deal with your grief and loss. In a season where people speak of joy and peace these concepts often allude those who are grieving. Here are some things that may help.
- Manage your expectations this season.
Maybe in the past you were Mrs. Claus doing everything: the toy drive for less fortunate kids, homemade cocoa cake that tastes out of this world but takes 3 hours to make, attending and loving all the parties, work, neighborhood, Bible Study etc.… Sounds exhausting just writing it. This year GO SLOW. Be intentional about what you can do. If there are celebrations that remind you of your loss, plan ahead to determine how you are going to handle them or if you will attend at all. You may need to either scale back your obligations or lower your expectations of the event. If you are worried you will cry and everyone will feel uncomfortable, you can ask them if they are ok with your grief or go into another room to feel your sorrow and cry. So many times, people tell me that others simply cry with them. While we cannot manage expectations of others, we may gather the courage to tell our adult child that we can’t bake the cake or put up the tree. It is ok to disappoint other adults to practice boundaries and self-care in painful times
- Be with people as much as you can while managing expectations.
Christmas is a good time to be with others because there are so many get-togethers that provide you with the comfort of people. Try to pick those people who will get in the foxhole of grief with you, not those who give you hollow platitudes or insensitive advice. We are mammals and mammals grieve in packs. Be with people who will aid you in grief. If no one is close by, plan a trip. Grief falls softer on the soul with someone to share it with you. This is why Grief Share groups are so successful at churches across the globe.
- Find support.
Friends, a grief group, a grief counselor. Having people who know how to walk beside you can make your feet less heavy as you journey forward without…
- Do talk about your grief and your lost loved one.
We often operate under the impression that if we discuss our pain and loss others will feel uncomfortable. While this could be true, your grief is not the time to caretake others. You are in pain and talking about it and not pushing it down helps you and can often be the best thing for your loved ones as well. Children are not included in this tip because they are dealing with the unfathomable and need extra help. An article on this is coming.
- Avoid self-medicating.
Grief is hard but we can’t avoid it. If you try to drown your pain you will have what Psychologists call Delayed-Unresolved Grief. This causes low immunity, headaches, stomach and intestine problems, anxiety, depression and more. The only way around grief is through it. We say in the Soul Healing Love Model we use in therapy that you can’t heal what you can’t feel! Feeling grief is some of the most difficult pain you can feel which is why you need others to aid you and turning to unhealthy options like excessive shopping, alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling or other addictive behaviors can be unhealthy for you. If you are tempted to do some of these unhealthy behaviors in order not to feel pain, put some things and people in place to help support you.
If you have never been a writer, don’t worry. This is for you, no one else. Write your hurt, your thoughts, your prayers. Cry out to God in your journals. He knows your grief. Isaiah 53:3, says that Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He knows how we feel. In fact, the Christmas season underscores how He came to earth to feel what we feel. As lonely as you feel, He IS feeling it with you.
- Rely on your faith.
Rely on God’s presence even if you don’t feel it. Pray, read comforting Scriptures, ( 1 Thessalonians 4:13, says we do not grieve as those who have no hope, and there are many more comforting words if you look up grief in your Bible). Worship, listen to music, and sing along. If certain Carols remind you of your loss, skip them if possible or cry if you have to. Look to your church family and friends to be there for you. If you are not one to ask for help, feeing the sore pain of grief is a good time to start. If you don’t have a church home, this can be a good time to connect to God’s people. If you are shy or have been Church Hurt like so many, reach out to a friend and ask them to lead you to a congregation during your painful season. Most churches will love to embrace you!
- Eat and Sleep!
We know you may not feel like it but these are two things that are essential to your life and in your terrible loss, you ARE going on. Do your best to put one foot in front of another and move forward, eating well and sleeping as much as you can. God has a reason and a plan in this difficult time and we need to eat well and sleep to move forward and live that plan out, even if we don’t want to.
- Share Memories
One way to honor you lost loved one is to talk about what they meant to you with others who have shared experiences and others of their own. Yes, it can be sad, but it also gives honor to your loss. This frequently leads to reminiscing in laughter for all involved. Laughter can be far away when we grieve but this can help laughter linger a little longer. Christmas gatherings can be a good place to remember and honor the losing and the lost. Other things to honor the lost loved one is to light a candle, dedicate flowers, a gift or entire church service in their honor. Plant a tree or flower garden, put a special commemorative ornament on the tree for them. Talk with friends and family about ideas to keep the memory of your loved one sacred.
- Do Something Different
At the time of this writing, I have several widows in the Caribbean! If you can’t go through all the traditions that remind you of your loss or watch Publix commercials of everyone around the table or you can’t feel the emptiness this year, do something very different. Go tropical, change things up. Skate at Rockefeller center or ski Vale. Do something you have always wanted to do.
- Create New Christmas or New Year’s Traditions
Find some things you can do, cook, create or visit, that can celebrate the season and not be a stifling reminder of what isn’t. Be creative and adventurous. Get input from others and execute their ideas. One mom’s adult child suggested the Bahamas for Christmas and was surprised and delighted that she took him up on his offer.
- Don’t make despair a frequent friend.
As we move to accept the unacceptable, do your best to thrive on the knowledge that we will see believers again. Death is not the end for them it is just a pause in their earthly story. We will see them and the story will continue in Glory. I always think of my lost loved ones celebrating Christmas, Christ’s birthday. in Heaven. Now that’s going to be a party! I can only imagine that they spare nothing to sing Happy Birthday to the God-Man. I must say this at least once a week, “Your loved one is so happy and healthy! They are feasting and celebrating and they want you to do that too.” And in this article are just a few things that may help you do just that.
Have a Blessed Christmas.