Can you believe it’s already that time again?! I went to the store the other day and there was actually a Christmas section already on display. I hadn’t even purchased a pumpkin yet ( the squash cultivar*, or the Starbucks latte). I was ready to put a huge tarp over the whole thing and play kickball with the ornaments, but instead I settled for a disapproving head gesture. Damn you self-control. While I’m in general disbelief that the holidays are officially upon us, I can feel myself tensing up already. Yes, there’s the present buying, the company get-togethers, calendar coordinating and the disarray brought on by daylight savings time, but there’s also grief and trying to find enough ways to just get through it all. So here are some reminders and helpful tools to use as we gear up for The Grief Who Stole Christmas:
Only do what you think you can handle: This is life’s best bumper sticker, but it applies more so during the holidays. We always get invited to our godson’s holiday program at his school. While we want to support him and I’m sure he’s knocking it out of the park, the thought of seeing these cute kids, in their festive sweaters, with video streaming parents looking on with joy, it’s sprinkled with good cheer and a side hefty dose of thinking we got robbed of our own son’s adorably awkward performance.
Plan a Getaway: The year we lost our son, our counselor encouraged us to take a vacation. I’m using the word ‘vacation’ loosely here, but planning an escape still has appeal. I never thought a mental health professional would ever prescribe me a vacation, but I’ve always been a stickler for following doctor’s orders. Holidays are times for traditions and grief has a way of shattering these traditions in a big way. Take a time out – you can think about how your new traditions will look next year. In all truthfulness, we didn’t follow our counselor’s advice. I don’t regret it, but those first holidays are forever in my mind. Worst ever. Nauseating really. I can definitely see where an escape would have had its advantages.
Find a way to remember, that makes your heart happy, no one else’s: When we pick out our fall pumpkins, we always find a medium orange one for Chase (the big brother pumpkin). We also make sure to get at least one white pumpkin for Chase (our Angel pumpkin).
Avoid Social Media: On most days, the force is strong to touch finger to app. But it’s strongly discouraged on holidays. Every year I think I can handle it. It won’t bother me this time. And then it does. If you want to post something, I get it. Do it! But then put it away. It’ll be there on a less emotionally charged day. Promise.
Only open the Christmas cards when you’re ready: Lots of us have a sticking point after loss. Something we haven’t been able to do since our friend, Grief, entered our lives. We’ve mastered lots of hurdles, but some linger, and it’s super frustrating. One of mine is, Christmas cards. I do appreciate that people think of us and want to share them, but I also have to get my head in the game when the first one gets tossed on the counter. Here we go. Some days will be tougher than others. So on those tough days, just leave the stack alone.
Pay it forward: Deflection can feel really good sometimes. I’ve had several friends in my immediate loss community choose to pay it forward for their lost loved one, on the anniversary of their death, or their birthday. Buying the coffee for the person standing in line behind you at Starbucks is a simple gesture, but it can make the heart happy for you and the person you’re treating. You never know what your fellow coffee drinkers might be going through too.
Watch the Booze: Having a few drinks always seems to move to the top of the coping mechanism list. And while the numbness might make you forget about sadness for a little bit, it can be a catalyst for aggressive tears and pent-up anger. The holidays come with lots of emotions, even when life seems to be going right. Kicking it up a notch is just dangerous and as much as we don’t want to admit it – it doesn’t make you feel any better.
Take a Nap: There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting yourself to bed. If time isn’t moving fast enough, if you can’t stand pleasantries for one more second, if you’re tired of pretending you’re fine, if you just want to be alone…the list is endless. All of these reasons give you an unwavering and substantiated case for crawling into bed.
Find Someone to Talk To: When asked who I can’t talk to about my grief, the list is endless. It’s a very short list of people who I confide in and who ask me how I’m doing. Find your short list of people and select one or two to lean on during the holidays. If they’ve made it to the short list, most likely they’ll be asking you how you’re doing anyway. Just try to resist the urge to say “fine” for once.
Cry: Okay, I’m not going to force you. This is just a reminder that if you feel it coming, don’t fight it. If you do manage to stifle the snot, congratulations. You’ve suppressed your feelings for a day. Guess what? You’ll be having an ugly cry, with a side of oatmeal for breakfast tomorrow. Just let it out.
Write: I’m not saying you need to start a blog (although I’m a huge advocate for this option), but writing can make you feel a release. If you have too much going on in your head, try putting it down on paper. Or if you feel like saying something really mean or a little too honest, write it down first and read it back. It just might be all you need to feel a little lighter.
You WILL get through this time and if you can find some moments for self-care along the way, you just might find moments of real joy too.
* In my research for this statement, I was drawn into the debate of whether or not the pumpkin is a fruit, or a vegetable. I’m actually still unsure, but I appreciate that this fact-finding mission distracted me from the looming holidays – the actual stressor who’s standing trial in this post).