Holidays are a time of traditions, rituals, and connection with loved ones.  In grief they can be especially difficult.  You may feel like you want to forget the holiday altogether since the traditions you have done or were expected to do are now void of his/her presence.  You may not even feel able to “celebrate” at all.

Grief expert David Kessler suggests honoring your feelings and giving yourself permission to

– not celebrate the holiday this year

– establish new traditions

– do the traditions with the expectation that things will be different

– make or do something in memory of the person who has passed (maybe light a candle, prepare a favorite food, tell a story).

There isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve.  It’s so highly personal.  One year in my grief I decided that I was not going to bother to put up a Christmas tree and decorate my home.  I didn’t have the energy or the will to do it. At first it was a relief because I did not have to do the extra work or feign being “merry and bright.” I was content with doing things “not holiday.”  It seemed to fit my sad mood.

But as the season went on, I began to miss the tree and the decorations. I broke down two days before Christmas and bought a tree.  I played Christmas music and decorated it, wrapped the few presents I had purchased, and cried a lot.  And I felt better.  I decided that for me it was better that I modify the rituals and be patient with myself.  It was not even close to being joyful but I felt more in touch with my community and that felt good.

One thing to remember about grief is that you may be more irritable, less patient and quick to react out of emotion or exhaustion when interacting with others.  Sometimes someone can make a comment that just rubs you the wrong way and this leads you to blurt out something you may later regret.  Try implementing this relaxation exercise next time you are in a trying social interaction. It is from anxiety and panic specialist Dr. Jennifer Abel., PhD.

The Sponge

  1. Take a deep breath in and hold it, slowly letting out the exhale.
  2. Focus in on your body, notice places where your muscles are tense, you feel warm, or where you are sweating.
  3. Notice which body parts are touching the chair you are sitting on.
  4. Imagine the chair is like a big sponge. The bottom and back of the chair have soft, porous materials that absorb any tension and stress that is in your body.
  5. Let the anxious, mad or sad feelings and sensations leave your body and become absorbed in the chair. With every breath, “the sponge” is taking in your tension. It can absorb a great deal.

Taking a moment to manage your emotions may help you say or do things that are less reactive and more thoughtful.  Find ways to express the emotions through writing, moving, drawing, or talking to a trusted person.  Small acts of self-compassion (like resting when you are tired, taking a walk, pouring yourself a cup of tea, meditating or praying, reading literature that soothes) practiced often may help as you endure this painful time. 

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