I woke up yesterday with that weighed feeling of dread. And as I laid there trying to place the reason for the feelings, questioning whether I had words with someone the night before or some sort of conflict, it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. No. There were no words or conflict, just simply that time of year when all the feelings come back.
See there’s this stretch of time starting just before Thanksgiving and going through December 4th, however long that ends up being, that can be a little tough for me. It’s been 14 years now. Every year is different. Every year it’s impossible to anticipate the feelings, or even the timing. Because grief is grief and it has no timeline. No matter how much time has passed the depths are still the same, the ache, the weight, still the same. The only difference is how long I find myself in that abyss.
My 17 year old brother died due to complications in surgery following a major car accident. I was 21. We were close, very close. Time goes on though, life evolves, bringing with it so many moments of joy. Nevertheless, certain mornings I awake to those feelings, coursing through my body, soul and spirit. Grief has returned. Reminding me both of my love and loss.
I know I’m not alone. Most of us have experienced loss in some way. Loss of a loved one, loss of a relationship, disconnection, and heartbreak. Often times grief comes to visit during the holidays, regardless of the timing and the circumstances. Grief can’t seem to be left out of the festivities. Over the years I’ve found a few things that help so I thought I’d share in hopes that if grief makes an appearance during your holidays what I’ve learned may help you too.
- Don’t fight it. It tends to be my nature to want to fight through the feelings of heartache. Internally, telling myself, “You’re strong, don’t get down.” But in my experience, when you deny and push away your feelings it only results in them creeping out in unhealthy ways. They find a way out, so I’ve learned to just give them the space they need and let it out. Yes, for me there is always that fear of if I let myself go there, I won’t come back. Every time I have come back (even in those early days).
- Remember you are not alone. The ability to come back from that dark place is most likely due to the fact that I am not alone. As alone as I may feel, inevitably friends and family surround me and support me (even after 14 years!) I also have a few of those people in my life that all I have to do is murmur my brother’s name and they know and are quick to offer a shoulder to lean on. I’ve learned that it feels so good to go ahead and lean in. (Hint: It really is ok to lean in.)
- Give yourself time and permission. This one is hard one for me, because it goes back to wanting to fight it. Sometimes it just feels like an inconvenience and I don’t want to sit with my feelings especially when there is so much to do. But I have learned to give myself the time to sit and the permission to do whatever I need to for me, feel whatever feelings arise without judgement. It’s giving myself permission to take care of me, that self-care. Because let’s just be honest, unless I do that, I’m not really fit to take care of anyone else. In those moments, it’s the best thing I can do for everyone.
- Consult your joy and meaning list. Thanks to the work of Brene Brown, I keep a little list. It’s a list compiled of little things that fill my heart with joy and meaning. Activities and things that light me up inside. And on dark days, days when it’s hard to feel the warmth of the light, I go to my list and pick one thing. Sometimes it’s the smallest thing requiring the least amount of effort but boy does it help! Yesterday it was playing video games my son followed by lunch with my daughter and husband, complete with a shared strawberry milkshake. Today it will be a few moments of quiet and remembrance.
- Let go of the expectations. I mentioned that for me every year is different. I feel it differently, I respond differently which means I can’t have expectations, or more realistically, it means I have to let go of them. It’s ok to do things differently and make different accommodations to fit the current circumstances. Sometimes tradition and rituals are comforting and other times not so much, I’ve learned (and still am learning) to be flexible and go with what feels right in the moment.
I hope these help you throughout your holiday season, especially if you’re experiencing grief in any way this year. And if that is you, please know my heart goes out to you. You are not alone.
Sending you love and peace today!