No one knows for sure how we'll respond to unwelcome change until it happens. And once it does, our biggest challenge is to deal with the reality of our circumstances. If we can't change the situation, then we must figure out how to cope with it.
As anyone who has ever been through heartache will agree, holiday time presents a special challenge. Its inherent expectations of happiness, merriment, and celebration can seem frankly impossible, leading some to wish they could skip the holidays altogether.
I realized when my son died that life had irrevocably changed, and I had to invent different ways of moving through each day in order to shape my new reality. If every aspect of life was going to be different now, I could actually choose how I wanted to observe special days.
The most important thing I can tell you is to plan ahead. Don't wait until the day arrives to think about how you want to spend it. Take some time imagining different options (this is where you can get creative), as adapting cherished traditions can be very meaningful. Discuss your thoughts with family members and enlist their support. Remember you don't have to decide how to spend every holiday from now on; you're just figuring out how to observe this day this year.
Have realistic expectations at this time of year. As you decide on your holiday schedule, keep an eye on your energy level to avoid overwhelm. Are you really up for having the whole gang over and doing all the cooking? Do you feel like attending office parties and other get-togethers? How might you modify your usual holiday routine? Decide what's doable for you and stick to it. It's okay to say no to one-too-many invitations.
Identify a support person who will check in with you periodically throughout the day or evening. When you're going through a difficult time, you might need to take a break, go for a walk, or even go lie down for a little while. Tell them you need to hear your loved one's name. Your support person and you can also develop a signal that says, "Get me out of here," if you do become exhausted or over-stressed.
One of the best ways to soothe the pain of loss during the holidays is to help others. Volunteer some time to any organization that fits your values and feels healing. Some people serve meals to the homeless; others bring toys to hospital pediatric playrooms. Make sure your volunteer work is realistic for you at that time. If you're preparing a holiday meal you might invite someone who doesn't have a place to go this year.
It's important to know your Self as you go through the holiday season. Choose ways of adapting and coping that make sense for you. Pay attention to sleep, nutrition, exercise, solitude, and togetherness. Honor your own spirituality.
However you choose to mark Thanksgiving tomorrow, I wish you a very meaningful observance.
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Essays on Grief Resilience