People often ask me, “Do we ever stop grieving?”
The answer is “no”, I don’t believe we ever stop grieving, I think we just learn how to manage in our lives - that is, if we take the proper healthy actions to work through our emotional distress and misery.
The fact that we never stop grieving is probably most apparent during the holiday season. While the overall theme and sentiments are enjoyed like, swanky holiday office parties, gift giving and receiving, and other traditions, usually the loss of our loved one lingers behind every moment.
I remember the first Christmas after Richard died, my company was having this huge 80s themed holiday party. I was absolutely distraught because not only had it only been four months since his death, but Richard LOOOOVED the 80s and owned appropriately-themed apparel for such a fun event. I decided I wasn’t going… that is, until a friend of mine offered to go with me.
A decked out 80s party sounded like a great time! But not having Richard with me to enjoy it left a pit in my stomach and hole in my heart.
I knew the importance of showing up and mingling with colleagues and the head honchos, so I found a happy medium that I was comfortable with and could handle - I decided to stay an hour, lol. That was long enough to show face, and bearable with a good friend.
In this scenario I learned that while we’re grieving we should seek a good balance without overcommitting. You don’t have to go to every party, and if you decide to go to one, you don’t have to stay the whole time.
Did I cry that evening? Absolutely.
I cried silently in a corner for a couple of minutes while looking around and seeing everyone enjoying the party with their significant other. And I cried again when I got home - big boo hoo, nose running, I hate my life tears.
But you know what? I was happy I went because it was a learning experience in grief, and a small step to embrace this new normal, without my husband.
Now, four years later, although I’m not crying at office holiday parties, I’m still carrying a heavy heart during this beautiful and special time of year.
From Thanksgiving to Christmas and through the New Year, I am a holiday fanatic. Hallmark Holiday movies, Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving, baking cookies for local first responders, all that jazz…. I LOVE the holidays! And during each of these special moments, it’s impossible to ignore the void that comes when we lose a loved one.
And one of the best parts of Christmas is now one of the worst parts - gift giving. You see, for us it was always about thoughtful and meaningful gifts, not how much it cost or how many you have. But as a widowed single parent, I have to buy my own gift, wrap it, leave it under the tree, and act surprised about my “gifts from Santa” in the morning when my son and I are opening presents.
Lame. So lame, and so painful.
Other traditions like playing games as a family also brings a variety of emotions. I think about all of the fun memories including: trash talking, competitive Wii Wakeboarding, and the hours spent laughing about how serious we were taking the games. Not to mention it’s bittersweet seeing my 6-year old loving - and dominating - all the games his dad once enjoyed.
Yet, four years later, just like four months after his death, I still give myself the space and permission to embrace these difficult moments. You see, the key to a healthy grief journey is allowing yourself to face the ugly - we have to process our complex emotions so we can learn how to manage them.
Take care of yourself this holiday season and beyond. Self-love is the best gift that keeps on giving.
Here are 3 ways to help manage your grief during the holidays:
Don’t overcommit. Like I mentioned earlier, do what you can when you can, and I’m sure your friends and loved ones will understand.
Embrace old traditions, and don't be afraid to start new ones. For example, I used to host Thanksgiving dinner at our house, one of my all time favorite days. But after Richard passed, the tradition changed - now Caleb and I travel, get a break from home, and enjoy a feast that someone else cooks!
Take a grief break when you need it - step away to a quiet space and give yourself time to process. Whether you need a moment to yourself while at a family gathering, or maybe you need a day or two to fully process this time of year - whatever you need, do it.