Grief and the festive season, what a combination.
This time of year is full of tinsel, food and celebrations. Work parties, family get-togethers, catching up with friends. Add in the seemingly endless trips to the shops and it’s easy for anyone to feel a bit overwhelmed. But what if festive is the last thing you’re feeling right now? What if, instead of excited and happy, planning your holidays or stocking up for a party, you’re riding a tidal wave of shock and grief and loss?
Friend, I have been there and it sucks.
It’s going around.
In the last few weeks, I have seen more than one friend riding this wave. Friends have lost family members, siblings, parents and other loved ones. Disease, accidents, age, circumstances. It doesn’t matter what the cause- losing someone you love always sucks. Dealing with that loss is always a difficult and intensely personal experience. And there’s an extra sting at this time of year.
Some of us want to share those feelings and thoughts with as many people as we can. We have a deep-seated need to talk it out. Others can’t even begin to probe the wound and want to carry on as normally as possible. We are fine, thanks for asking.
To go through grief on the merry-go-round of the “festive season” can be kind of surreal. Whether your loss is fresh, weeks old or a bit longer, it can feel like you’re watching it all, yourself included, from the outside.
If this is you now, I just want you to know, however you choose to deal with it is okay. You might already know this, but sometimes it helps when someone reiterates it. That’s all I want to do here.
You do you.
If you don’t want to go to all of the parties, that’s okay. You don’t need to explain yourself unless you want to. Get a trusted person to do it for you, if you want to give an explanation but can’t deliver it yourself. Write an email or a text. Take time and take personal space. Spend time with your family but also allow yourself to be alone. Cry, scream, punch a pillow, rage and let it all out if that’s what you need. Do it every day if you want to.
You are allowed to feel that way. Give yourself permission.
If you want to go to some things and not others, do it. Don’t pressure yourself to explain. Leave early if you want to. Spend 8 hours in front of the t.v. Take a long bath. Read a book. Nourish yourself with food if you want to, or comfort yourself with a treat. Hug the dog or cat if you have one.
It’s okay, there are no rules to this.
Some people want to lean on others and this is fine, too. Some don’t want to stop being part of celebrations. This might be you and this is also okay.
There really are no rules.
If a party makes you feel good, even for a few hours, go to the party. Maybe it’s a pleasant distraction and tomorrow you will cry and rage. That is fine. Maybe it actually helps you to get out and talk to people. Good, do it. You might shed a tear here and there. You might prefer not to talk about it. Maybe what you need is casual banter and gossip. Good friends will accommodate this. They will still worry for you and check in with you later but a good friend will have you, mate. Believe me. My good friends have carried me through this before and I have done the same for them. That’s the deal with friendship, yeah?
What I’m getting at is self-care.
Real self-care, not the “go get a pedicure”, generic idea of self care. Get one if that’s your thing, though.
What I really mean is allowing yourself to process this in whatever way you need to. It’s hard when everyone around you is talking about gifts and holidays and social events. Grieving is a difficult process and at first, it seems endless. Everyone will regurgitate that old line about time healing all wounds. They mean well and, in some ways, they’re right. It gets easier to live with, but how long that takes is different for everyone.
Outsource what you can if you need some time to yourself. Accept help when it is offered. Ask for it if you need to. Don’t commit to cooking a banquet on Christmas day, unless cooking is your personal joy. Tailor this self-care and grieving thing to your needs as much as you can. Allow yourself space and solitude when you need to.
You know what else comes under the self-care umbrella? Moments of brightness, laughter and flashes of joy. You can have these on the worst day of your life and even the days that follow. They creep up on you. You are human; let it in. A respite from grief, whether it’s a few seconds or a few hours or whatever the case is for you, is good for you. No one that loves you, living or not, wants you to be steeped in misery for the rest of your days.
You know what else is okay? Not smiling or laughing. If you don’t want to be cheered up for a bit, that is okay too. If a bright spot presents itself, an opportunity to smile or feel good, take it when you’re ready.
Grief is a process. Remember that, too.
There’s that old chestnut about stages of grief; shock, denial, acceptance, bargaining- yada yada yada. For many people, these things happen outside of the prescribed order and sometimes not at all. Remember, there really are no rules.
Grief is one of the most isolating and devastating processes I have been through. But the fact that it is a process was something that helped me. It meant that it would eventually change from the rending, suffocating pain it first was to something I could live with. It meant I would eventually stop throwing up when I felt stressed (glamorous, no?) and that the tightness in my chest would ease one day.
I spoke to my doctor, I leaned on my mates, I cried in the arms of my husband and spent hours curled up with my cats watching bad movies. All of this was punctuated with raucous celebrations and laughter, because life doesn’t pause for our pain and grief.
Grief is a shitty part of life, but an important one. Grief shows us, at the most basic level, our own humanity. It means you have loved.
Get through this at your own pace. And if you’re stalling, or floundering in a place where the dark and alone feelings are getting too much, let someone know. There are services you can access yourself. You can speak to your GP. And if all that is too overwhelming, tell a friend or loved one and get them to help and support you to find help. Speaking up about needing help is the kindest and most caring thing you can do for yourself.
You don’t have to navigate these waters alone. If you are wading through this right now, I’m sending my love to you. It’s a small thing but I hope you don’t feel as alone as you might have.