“For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it? How often – will it be for always? – how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time.” — C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
The holiday season is upon us and we are surrounded by opportunities and invitations to embrace the spirit of love and joy. I fully support that idea!! There are so many benefits to be reaped from the whole-hearted embracing of the wonders that seem to occur when we connect with others in celebration. Time spent with family and loved ones, time focused on engaging in the generosity of giving to others and receiving from others, time spent reflecting on the larger meanings (the things that go beyond our individual selves) – all seem like wonderful ways to nurture the mind, body and spirit. And I find myself being appreciative of having sanctioned time to do just that in the midst of a busy existence.
For many however, this time of year brings great pain, as well. Many find themselves in the throes of grief during the holiday season. Sometimes the grief is fresh and new – from a recent loss. Maybe there has been a death, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, a chronic or terminal illness, or the loss of a hope of what you thought life might be. Sometimes, the grief is an old familiar visitor – a resurgence or revisiting of past losses. Always the grief feels painful. There is nothing to be done about the root source of the grief. The loss is a reality that cannot be changed. It’s a fact of life. But, it’s equally true that you can heal from the loss. The healing is a result of ongoing acceptance and integration of the loss into your life. The net result is a new version of life – one that acknowledges the existence of the loss, but doesn’t have the loss defining you. This is work that can carry on long after the event of the loss has passed. In the meantime, there is this grief that you feel. And all the well-intended emphasis on being with family and feeling joy during the holiday season can amplify the loss and its impact, magnifying your feelings of sadness, loneliness and being alone.
As I ponder the losses in my own life, the losses loved ones have endured, and the countless losses shared with me by courageous clients throughout the years I am reminded of the grace that is encountered in the midst of the pain of loss. There are so many definitions of grace, both secular and non-secular. I find myself drawn to this definition: Grace is the warmth in your heart that gives you courage. This definition might seem contrary to the experience of loss – often when we are feeling the pain of loss we don’t notice “warmth” in our hearts – quite frankly it can feel just the opposite. But if you allow yourself to sit with the impact of the courage you are demonstrating as you put one foot in front of the other to get through each day, each moment during these excruciatingly painful times I believe you will be able to feel the warmth that sustains you.
In the spirit of giving, I would like to share some ideas that might help you, or someone you know, to truly know grace during your time of grieving. These are just suggestions; the list is neither prescriptive nor exhaustive because your grief is unique. At first glance these are perceived simply as ways to cope with grief during this holiday season. But, they are much more – they are moments of potential grace in the midst of the pain.
Being Present With Your Grief
- Show compassion to yourself (there is no timeline for when you should be “over” your grief).
- Be with your grief (your internal feelings). If you have a thousand tears to cry, don’t stop at 500.
- Be true to your experience in the moment (avoid trying to put on a good face so that others don’t feel bad).
- Let yourself feel all that you feel (sad, grief, angry, lonely, alone, happy, hopeful). You are not one dimensional and nether are your feelings.
- Take time to be alone (to sleep, to reflect, to sit quietly, to yell).
- Be with those whose presence is comforting.
- Do only what serves you and your needs (don’t do more than you want).
- Be gentle with yourself (kind words, kind thoughts, kind actions toward yourself).
- Sustain your physical being (eat, hydrate, move).
- Be in nature if possible (even for brief periods of time).
- Ask for support (from family, friends, church, etc.).
- Allow others to help.
- Share a favorite story about your loved one or the experience you are grieving.
- Ask others to share a favorite memory about your loved one.
- Light a candle in honor of your loved one or to commemorate what you have lost.
- Say a prayer about your loved one before the holiday dinner.
- Create a ritual (or devote time to one already created) that honors your loss, your relationship with your loved one.
- In any moment give yourself permission to do none of the above.
- Have a Plan A and a Plan B for the holiday.
- Try the holidays a new way. Go where you want to go, don’t go where you don’t want to go, etc.
- Cancel the holiday all together. If you really don’t feel able to participate in the holiday, give yourself permission to just not do it this year. However, this doesn’t mean complete isolation from others – just a temporary withdrawal from festivities.
- If there are children involved, pay extra attention to them during this time. Often, children are the forgotten grievers. This is a good place to ask for help from others!
“Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.” ~Rumi
As we immerse ourselves in this holiday season my wish for all of you who are healing from loss is that you will be graced with “warmth” from the courage you so unmistakably display. Your courage is humbling and inspiring. May you feel grace in the midst of your grief.
Fran Bieganek is a Licensed Psychologist practicing holistic psychotherapy at Bhakti Wellness Center. She has been practicing for over 20 years and currently specializes in the areas of trauma, anxiety, depression, grief and loss, stress management, developmental transitions and well-being. She works with both individuals and couples. In addition to her therapy practice she has also taught Psychology courses at several colleges in Minnesota. She is currently accepting new clients and can be reached at 612-564-9947 or by emailing her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.