Managing grief during the holiday season can be truly difficult, and often heart-wrenching.
Between the stress of planning and attending festive gatherings, sending out holiday cards, and shopping for this season’s must-haves, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and uncertain about how to throw on a cheerful face when you’re missing the company of a loved one.
Oftentimes, paying mind to what others are going through during the holidays is overlooked, even overshadowed by the bells and whistles that come with the annual flip of the calendar. For those who are experiencing grief and loss during this holiday season, this may lead to the concealing of emotions, a blanket of shame or guilt, and even a buildup of disappointment and frustration.
Even then, while the pain of grief will likely affect each of us one day, it doesn’t always make walking through it any easier.
And that is okay. You are not alone.
Whether you’ve recently lost someone dear to you, or have been missing someone for some time now, the pain can be hard to sort through. Know that our hearts ache alongside yours.
One day you might feel a sense of gratitude, of comfort, knowing that this special person touched your life so deeply, but there may also be days where you’re met with anger, depression, and uncertainty about how to process your pain.
This fluctuation in emotions is normal.
The process of grief is unique to all of us. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, nor is there a time limit you must follow. Grief can also show up in waves throughout your lifetime and may come forward when reminiscing about special memories or when encountering familiar sights, sounds, or smells.
We know that we cannot take the pain away, and though we wish we could, we’d like to offer a few tips and tools for managing grief during the holidays. We’d like to lend you our hand with love, to let you know we stand with you in solidarity at Lee Alexander & Co.
The Mayo Clinic explains grief as a personal experience and universal one—a strong, at times overwhelming emotion for people, regardless of whether their sadness stems from the loss of a loved one or from a terminal condition they or someone they love has received.
Common grief reactions may include feeling numb and removed from daily life, anxiety, anger, periods of sadness, being unable to carry on with regular duties while saddened, and disrupted sleep and appetite.
Experiences of grief can vary tremendously but often resonate with the passing of a loved one, the loss of one’s job, the end of a relationship, the loss of one’s meaningful possessions, or one’s independence by way of a disability. Grief can also be experienced when a loss is anticipated but has not yet happened.
Your personal experience of grief may have several layers, embody many emotions, or stretch across multiple sources of loss (for example the end of a relationship also causing the loss of one’s job as a result).
As you can see, grief is not so straightforward.
Mourning the loss of someone dear to you can look like deep sadness, even overlapping with symptoms of depression and anxiety. But it can also look like anger, confusion, shame, guilt, or even relief. Grief can be perceived differently from one person to the next due to our brain and nervous system anatomy as well environmental factors and personal experience.
If wondering how long the mourning period can last, the short answer is weeks, months, or years. Typically though, symptoms will begin to lessen over time. When navigating loss, it can be helpful to understand the grieving process, to stay connected with close friends and family, and if at all helpful, to seek support from a mental health professional.
The 7 Stages of Grief
There are seven stages of grief we commonly experience on the pathway to honoring and remembering those we’ve lost: Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Testing, and Acceptance. Some of us might endure more elements of the grieving process, and others less. No two losses are ever the same and no two people will grieve in the same manner.
This model of navigating grief was first developed by Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and was originally referred to as a 5-stage model to help those with terminal illnesses explore their thoughts and feelings when nearing the end of life. After being revised to a more comprehensive 7-stage grieving process by E. Kubler-Ross and D. Kessler, it continues to serve as a framework for understanding grief worldwide.
It’s important to understand that the grieving process is not always a linear journey. While some will mourn within a similar context of one, or several, of the stages below, they may not go through all of the stages. Likewise, the timeframe and course of each stage are unique to all of us.
The seven stages of grief serve as a tool, a roadmap, if you will, used to spot what may be ahead and to remember what’s now behind—though, not necessarily to highlight one standard path of arriving at the stage of acceptance and hope. Understanding the multi-layer process of grief can help us to heal and to feel less alone knowing others have similar experiences to our own.
Let’s take a closer look at the seven stages of grief.
Feelings of shock are common when met with the news of someone’s passing, particularly when that person is dear to us. Even if we’ve had a chance to prepare for the loss of a loved one, the shock of it transpiring can feel physically and emotionally distressing. So much so that that our body puts up defenses to protect us. It’s not uncommon to notice someone appearing initially detached when in a state of shock.
After the initial shock has passed, many will experience a level of denial following their loss. For some, it’s difficult to fathom this new reality. Denial could imply not believing that the loss has truly occurred as well as having trouble picturing life without the person.
Feeling angry about losing a loved one is more common than you may realize. Anger is an emotion that often gets minimized and criticized by others. Many turn their anger inwards to conceal it, which in turn, can make healing more difficult. By embracing these strong feelings, and not displacing them onto someone or something else, we allow ourselves the freedom to feel, to connect with our pain.
The bargaining stage entails seeking reasons for this person’s passing, perhaps asking the universe for another chance. Bargaining may occur naturally as a result of one’s distress surrounding the loss but may also be associated with feelings of shame or guilt. That maybe there was something they could have done to change the outcome. Bargaining might sound like, “If only I did this instead,” or “What if I was there to help?”
The hurricane of emotions that typically occurs in the grieving process can sometimes lead to feelings of depression, isolation, and anxiety. After bargaining has failed to provide relief, some may yearn to be reunited with the person that’s passed and are unsure of where to turn. Suffering in silence is never the answer and it’s important to seek support from friends, family, and a mental health professional if these feelings persist.
When testing, a person experiments with ways to better manage and cope with their loss. Testing may look like joining a support group, reconciling with an ex-partner, or changing one’s scenery. But where bargaining is about escape and control, testing entails trying out sustainable strategies for living with this loss.
In the acceptance stage, a person understands the gravity of their loss but they can now move forward. The degree to which a person can move forward after their loss is dependent upon several factors, including but not limited to: the nature of the loss, personal psychosomatic factors, one’s motivations for moving forward, and if a support network is available.
9 Tips for Managing Grief Over the Holidays
Managing grief during the holidays is complex. One moment we may want to be surrounded by others, celebrating carefree, while the next we prefer to be snuggled up alone on the couch with a good movie, flipping through old photo albums. Either scenario, of course, is completely understandable. Now that we know grief is not a straightforward process, but one that is unique to all of us, we cannot expect to predict how we’ll feel one day to the next. This is where we need to be gentle with ourselves, as we would with others.
If you or someone you know is grieving during the holidays, there are things you can do to help alleviate some of the pain you may be feeling. But try to take comfort in knowing that grief is part of the human experience, something that connects us to our inner selves and to one another, not something you need to conceal or shy away from.
1. Set Realistic Expectations for Yourself
Take time before the holiday events start to decide how much time and effort you can afford to give during this delicate time. Don’t pressure yourself to keep up with appearances or to fulfill the expectations of others. Do what feels right and set boundaries if you need to along the way. What matters most right now is taking care of you.
2. Identify Grief Coping Skills
Take a mental note of some coping skills you’ve found helpful in times of stress or when experiencing an overwhelming emotion. This may include deep breathing, taking a walk, splashing cold water on your face, meditation, or a quick burst of exercise. Sometimes the holidays can feel chaotic and having a mental checklist of coping mechanisms can be just what we need to feel more grounded.
3. Spend Time With Those Who Love & Support You
This is a big one. When you’re grieving during the holidays, there are no better people to surround yourself with than those who love and care for you. These are the people you can be yourself with, through the highs and the lows of the season. Socializing with others can also help stimulate healthy brain activity and build positive connections. As tempting as it may be to stay within the comfort of your own space during the holidays, try to balance the need for alone time with spending quality time with others.
4. Check In With Yourself
Between the storytelling, gift-giving, bell-jingling, and plates clinking, it can be challenging to stay present in our mind and body, but try to be intentional here. Set a goal to check in with yourself and your emotions every hour or two. Even if only in the privacy of a restroom or on a family member’s front step. Be patient with your thoughts and your feelings as they may need a moment to surface. When they arrive, embrace them. Walk through the feeling. And return to the gathering when you’re ready. Sometimes it helps to have a go-to person at events during the holidays, too; someone that you can call or text as needed and who will be there for you no questions asked.
5. Fulfill Missing Holiday Roles
Hearing the soft words, “Grandma used to set the table,” or “Uncle Pete always served the dessert” can bring up many emotions, and usually unexpectedly. Planning to fulfill these roles can help ease some of the pain and discomfort felt when these moments arise. Why not make a sign-up sheet, asking all attendees to choose a holiday “job.” Options can include: preparing a gift-giving station, decorating the kid’s table, handing out drinks or appetizers, setting the dinner table, or serving the pie. Also, everyone feels included and a team mentality is supported.
6. Honor Traditions & Memories
While the initial thought of carrying out special traditions without your loved one can feel uncomfortable, honoring the traditions they loved can also make us feel more connected to them, and in turn, more joyful. Honoring traditions and memories can ease built-up tension and allow you to have fun, to unwind a bit. To ensure everyone is on the same page, remember to check in with other friends and family members before rolling out a special tradition without your loved one’s presence.
7. Create New Traditions
Why not create some new traditions, too? Creating new holiday traditions can help us view the future in a positive light, with many new things to look forward to. While we will never forget the loved ones that have passed, we can take comfort in knowing that there is much more ahead, and we, like the seasons, are always changing.
8. Pay it Forward
Helping others can be a great way to manage grief during the holidays or any time of year. Consider giving a donation to or volunteering for a cause that is symbolic of your loved one. You may also adopt a family in need during the holiday season. Engaging in small acts of kindness throughout the year can greatly improve our spirit.
9. Ask For Help
No one should have to manage their grief during the holidays alone. During this delicate time, it’s important to stay connected with friends, family, and yourself. If at any time the grief felt from losing a loved one becomes too overwhelming, in any way, always reach out for help.
Undeniably so, the process of grief is one we wish we didn’t have to bear, but remember that the memory of your loved one lives on through you, and all who felt their light. The grieving process is complex, just as we are. Remember to be gentle with yourself during this time of transition. We hope your holiday season is filled with love, kindness, and the force of human connection. We lend you our hand with love, to let you know we stand with you in solidarity at Lee Alexander & Co.
If you’re ready to start your journey to find the perfect memorial jewelry, contact us. We want nothing more than to help you cherish the memory of your loved one and to carry their spirit with you throughout your beautiful journey ahead.