It starts earlier every year it seems. Holiday decorations hit the shelves the week before Halloween in my area. It's crazy. As though you need more reminders that the holidays are coming. Looming.
This time of year adds an extra measure of pain to people already bearing more than they can, more than they should ever have to. There is the empty seat at the table, the heaviness of all the ways the one you love is missing, traditions that have gone flat, smacking against the empty place.
Death, illness, massive life events -- they all sour the season in ways those outside your loss can't understand.
Whether you've always loved the holidays, or avoided them as best you could, the first several seasons after a loss or big life event can well and truly suck. So many people want to make this a "good" holiday for you. Part of your family wants traditions to stay exactly the same, others want to change everything. Conflicting desires, broken hearts, lots of attention when you'd rather just hide in your blanket fort until the whole thing is over -- it's too much.
Given that this season is going to be rough, how will you survive?
- Say no a lot. Really. Other people will tell you you should say yes to things, get out more, be social. You know what? No. If "being social" gives you the hives, why on earth would you do that? Remember that "no" is a complete sentence. You can say "no, thank you" if you must say more.
- Choose your gatherings. If you do choose to attend something holiday-ish, choose wisely. Sometimes a big crowd is easier than a small one, because you can slip out un-noticed as you need to. While a small gathering might have been most comfortable in your life Before, those intimate things can feel more like a crucible now, with people watching to see how you're doing.
- Find companionship, or find ways to be alone-together with others. Musical offerings, candlelight meditations or services -- check those little local newspapers and see what's going on in your community. A fantastic place to be alone-together with people who really get grief is the Writing Your Grief community. We've always got room for you. Click here to join the tribe.
- Volunteer. The first Thanksgiving after Matt died, I volunteered in the local soup kitchen. It was an "acceptable" reason for not attending family obligations, and also a way I could serve others in my own quiet way.
- Have a plan. Before you go to a party or an event, be sure to make your exit plan clear -- with yourself. Give yourself an out, whether that is a specific time limit or an emotional cue that lets you know it's time to go. Stick to your plan.
- Check in with yourself. This is true not just for events and gatherings, but for every single moment of life: check in with yourself. Take just a minute to breathe, one good inhale/exhale, and ask yourself how you're doing. Ask yourself what you need. It may be that the piped in Christmas carols at the grocery store are just too much. Maybe you need to leave now -- just abandon that cart in the aisle. Or maybe you feel like you can push through, so you put your emotional blinders on and sing yourself some other song to blot out the noise. Give yourself what you need in that moment.
Which brings me to my favorite anytime-not-just-the-holidays tip:
LEAVE WHENEVER YOU WANT. Please remember that this is your life. You do not have to do anything that feels bad or wrong or horrifying. Even if you agreed to participate in something, you can change your mind at any time. Stop whatever you're doing whenever you want.
The holidays are going to hurt, my friend. That is just reality. Whether you are missing someone who should be part of the festivities, or you are missing someone who shared your love of quiet acknowledgment over raucous partying, this season will add some to your grief.
Companion yourself. Care for yourself. Listen. Reach out where it feels good to reach, curl in when that is what you need. Make this season as much of a comfort to you as you can.
Struggling through the holidays sucks. Please share this post in your online communities. Every day, more people enter the world of grief. Sharing this post helps them find the support they need. Let's make our love and support, our companionship inside grief, really easy to find. Click the share buttons at the top, and sidebar, of this post.
Megan Devine is a writer and grief advocate. You can find her -- and her audio book, When Everything is Not Okay - at Refuge in Grief. To explore your pain with kindness and respect, join her popular Writing Your Grief 30 day course. As one student wrote, "In a world of Kardashians and cat videos, the Writing Your Grief course kind of redeems the internet." Come see why.