It was only after the nursing home started setting decorating for Christmas that Norman realized this would be the first year without his wife at home. Worse yet, based on his last visit with her, she most likely would not remember any part of their 50 years together. The Alzheimer’s had taken over her brain and most days she was recounting stories of her childhood as if they happened yesterday.
Jessa and Ryan found themselves stuck between wanting to cry and desperately desiring to celebrate the holidays. The loss of their 2 year old child was devastating to their family this past year but they had two other kids who very much wanted to have fun. While the grieving process is very slow for parents, children tend to recover quicker. Their differentiating pace, especially during this time of year, left Jessa and Ryan feeling even more disconnected.
The divorce was finalized this past year with each parent agreeing to alternate the Christmas holiday. For Stephanie, this meant that she would not be with her kids this year for the first time ever. What seemed easier on paper was unbelievably difficult in reality. She wanted to crawl into a hole and wait till Christmas passed before coming back out again.
The holiday season seems like an impossible mountain to climb over for Norman, Jessa, Ryan, and Stephanie. Their grief during the holidays isolates them from the overall cheer in the air and the attitude of others who don’t want to think about sad things this time of year. For each of them, just getting out of bed in the morning and walking into a store depletes all of their emotional energy. Knowing they craved comfort, they tried these suggestions.
- Go slow. To do anything else is next to impossible. Be intentional about planning extra time since things tend to take much longer than normal to complete. Avoid over-scheduling activities as too much stimulation can cause a crash.
- Simplify where possible. This might be the perfect year for a plethora of gift cards instead of trying to find the right gift. It might also be a good idea to go out to a restaurant for special dinners or pick up a meal and bring it home.
- Be around loving people. Spend time with friends and family who understand and can empathize with the grieving. This is not a time for new relationships or being around anyone who doesn’t know the situation.
- Avoid office parties. Any environment where people tend to over-indulge creates an atmosphere of insensitivity and indifference. This will cause more even more pain. It is far better to avoid such places than it is to make an appearance and be hurt.
- Nothing big. This is not the time to start a new tradition, rather this is time of healing. While somethings will have to change due the loss, smaller changes are better than large ones which require too much energy.
- Reach out. This is not a season to do things alone. Accept offers from others to help. Reach out to a sympathetic friend for love and support. Find another person also grieving to share experiences and pain.
- Be still. Healing requires patience, rest, emoting, time, and sterilization. None of these things are possible when there is constant movement. Patience with self and others is one of the best gifts to give a person who is grieving and needs to emote strong feelings.
- Sterilize environment. Sterilization is about keeping away from any infectious people. These people include those who are difficult, angry, self-centered, dramatic, obnoxious, hostile, threatening, abusive, or callous.
- Release emotions. It is normal and natural to cry during loss. Releasing these emotions keep them from getting bottled up and exploding later. It is best to emote in small pieces so plan some time for this even if it is just sitting in a parking lot for a few extra minutes to grieve.
- Remember to breathe. One of the best self-care strategies is to take deep breaths. These are belly breathing motions (not breathing from the chest). Try breathing in for a count of four, hold for four, and breathe out for four. Repeat this three more times over several times during the day.
- Honor their memory. Doing something in remembrance of the loss can be hard but is greatly therapeutic. This could be hanging a special ornament, planting a tree, creating a photo book, making their favorite dish, listening to song, or doing their favorite activity.
- Time does not heal. The old saying “Time heals all wounds,” does not apply to this situation. While time does soften the intensity of the grief, it does not leave. Some years will be better than others; other years will be worse than expected.
Instead of viewing the holidays as one giant mountain, Norman took each day one at a time. Jessa and Ryan found some private time to grieve away from their other kids. And Stephanie spent the holidays with a friend who was also divorced. While they all grieved through the holidays, they were able to find comfort and support from people who cared.