Many people experience depression during the holiday season. This is not surprising given that we are bombarded with loud Christmas music wherever we go, incessant advertising and a non-stop drumbeat to shop, buy, spend and create the perfect Hallmark holiday. It is hard not to feel stressed out if you then add the pressure of entertaining, houseguests and a long list of expectations.
Now imagine trying to face all this when you are grieving the loss of a loved one.
It is very hard. It is painful. It is unbearably sad.
I lost my mother very suddenly and unexpectedly in May 1990, when she was 63 and I was 31. I made the decision to skip Christmas entirely that year – no tree, no gifts, no decorations. I simply could not bear it.
Fortunately, my boyfriend (now husband) understood and supported me, and there were no children to worry about back then. It was the best I could do.
The pressure to go along with the holidays is intense. Here are my own tips on how to get through them if you are grieving.
1. Don’t let anyone pressure you or try to tell you what will make you feel better. Only you know what helps.
2. Remember your loved one in whatever way seems right – a walk in the woods, a prayer service, watching their favorite movie, setting a place at your table. You don’t need anyone’s permission or concurrence.
3. Don’t be afraid to tell people that it really is not a Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday for you. Let your colleagues at work know that the season is hard for you and ask them to understand if you are distant.
4. Learn to say no.
5. Give yourself permission to mourn. It is normal and necessary. And then tell yourself gently, over and over, that you will not always feel this way. And, in time, you won’t.
I’ve learned a great deal over the years about loss and grief. I’ve learned to grow from each loss in my life, but it has taken a lot of work and faith. If you are grieving this holiday season, you are not alone. But please know and believe, with all your heart, that you will not always feel the way you do now. Time does heal. Things will get better.
For more information on grief and the holidays, I suggest:
Therese A. Rando, PhD. Grieving: How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies. (Note: This book saved me as I grieved the loss of my mother).
GriefShare, Surviving Grief During the Holidays
Wendt Center for Loss and Healing, Washington, D.C. Happy Holidays?
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, Grieving During the Holidays