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Grief and the Holidays

Buckle up. Whether it is your first year or your 10th year without the person you love, the holiday season is going to be different than it was before. There are few things that are as triggering than the slogan around the holidays that, “This is the time to be with family and friends.” It is natural to scream, “But someone I love is dead! And I cannot be with them!” David Kessler, renowned author, and grief counselor advises, “Don’t do more than you want, and don’t do anything that does not serve your soul, your loss, or the meaning that still lives within you.” So the question is how or what can you do to get through this and future holiday seasons? Perhaps you will be best served by implementing the 5 C’s strategy: (in no particular order) Create, Care, Communicate, Change and Celebrate.

Create– Make a plan A which includes everything that everyone is telling you to do. Then make a Plan B — what you would like to do. Your plan may be to go to something small, or different, be alone or with a crowd. Your plan may be to cancel the entire holiday for this year. This year is going to be hard and different. So be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to only be in the moment and change your mind.

Care– Pay attention to what you may need. You may want to escape and go to work. You may want to crawl into bed with your favorite food. You may want to go to the cemetery. There are no holiday police. Take care of your heart and your body.

Communicate– No one can read your mind. Find a way, in person, by phone, by text, or by email to tell the people who are concerned about you what you want to do for the holidays. You are entitled to say “I” and have people respect your choices. People are often nervous or self-conscious about asking what you, as the mourner, want to do. Each person’s pain is different. Those who love you are trying to alleviate your pain. Tell them the way you feel. Talk about the person you love.

Change– You may need to change your expectations about yourself and others in your life. You may need to change up the decorations, the food, the guest list, the place, and the event. Everything has changed in your life.

Celebrate– Find a way perhaps to celebrate the person you are missing. Studies have shown that people who incorporate some kind of personal ritual move through grief a little lighter. Write a letter to your loved one, light a candle, say a prayer, show some pictures, find laughter in your love. By inviting your loved one into the holidays the empty chair may be a little less empty.

Buckle up…you may experience mood swings, joy, and immeasurable sorrow, lethargy, and bursts of energy, binging and indifference, vulnerability, and fog. The holidays will end. You will get through them. Your grief is love and love will sustain you.

Sarah Messinger, Rabbi, MFT

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