My late husband passed away in early October 2009, and within two weeks I dealt with my daughter’s third birthday. Six weeks after that was our first Thanksgiving without Mitch, and a month later, Christmas.
Wow, talk about being hit with an emotional sledgehammer. The holidays are hard on people even without the added pain of grief. Please know, there is NOTHING anyone can do to fix your pain. You also need to know that your pain is real, it sucks and deserves to be validated so please don’t allow anyone to diminish or belittle your loss.
I do, however, believe there are a few things you can do to help alleviate the magnitude of the season. I hope this list helps you and I’m sending you lots of love during this difficult week.
These are in no particular order of importance because I think they are all critical!
There are most likely people in your life that love you and want to help. Let them. Don’t be brave, strong, or put on a facade. Take the help if it’s offered because it is done with love. My first Christmas I had several friends come to my house and help us decorate, because frankly I just could not. My kids were 1 and 3, and I wanted them to have the magic of Christmas still, but I was not up to doing it alone. My friends saved me that first Christmas, and it meant the world to me.
If you follow my work you know this one would make my list! Exercise is a mood changer and is scientifically proven to make you feel better. Exercise is never going to take away your pain, but it will empower you, strengthen you, and flood your brain with powerful endorphins. Start with just 20 minutes, and you might be amazed how you feel.
Be True to Yourself
You don’t have to be okay… honestly, you don’t. Be where you are and don’t make excuses for it. It’s okay to be sad, angry, frustrated, and a million emotions in-between. Be honest with those in your life. Tell them if family time hurts, if you feel lonely in a room full of people who love you. You are allowed those emotions. They are powerful, and they are real. However, don’t expect people to understand unless you tell them.
Take some time and emotionally prepare for the holiday season. The emotions are going to come; it’s a given. Just go ahead and take some you time before any significant events, so you are not ambushed by what’s to come.
Don’t be alone if you can avoid it. Try to spend time with others which alone can be difficult but ultimately help you feel not quite so alone. Being with others won’t fix your loneliness but it will remind you that other people still care.
Don’t Numb the Pain
The officer who delivered the news of my late husband’s plane crash told me this, “Michelle, whatever you don’t drink. Don’t numb your pain in any way. Live it, experience it, survive it and you will be okay.” To this day, that is some of the very best advice I’ve ever been given.
This is a personal choice. Decorate or don’t… do what feels right for you. Nobody ever said you have to go crazy putting up decorations. If it makes you feel good – do it. If it makes you feel bad – don’t. No rules, this is your journey. My kids were young, so I wanted to decorate the first year after their Dad’s death, but it was hard.
Get in Nature
Nature and Vitamin D can be very powerful tools in the grief journey. There is just something so healing about fresh air, the sunshine and the peaceful quiet. Find a park, a trail, a mountain, a beach, or a lake and go for a soul cleansing walk. Who knows, it may even lead to a good soul-cleansing cry.
Shop Online or Not at All
Don’t stress yourself out going from store to store. Sometimes seeing people be petty about material items, parking spots, long waits in line, etc. can send you over the edge especially this time of the year. Save yourself the torture and just order what you want to get online or not at all. We all know material objects don’t make a life.
Give Yourself Grace
This one goes back to point #3. Don’t rush this process and don’t force yourself to be magically better. We grieve not only for the physical loss of life but also the memories stolen, the futures changes, and the forced acceptance of a new normal. This process may take years of reflection and personal growth. Give yourself the grace to grieve as long as you need to.
Look for Signs
My first Christmas after the loss we found a card under the tree that I’d never seen before. Mitch had written it for my birthday, and somehow it was magically under my tree. It was a mystery how it got there but that sign (as I believe it was), gave me a much-needed boost of love.
The best thing I have to offer you is Hope. You will not hurt this intensely forever, but grief is a forever part of who you are and will touch all you become. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Say their Name
Love never dies, and people are not replaceable. This holiday season... say their name to those who will listen and say their name to those who have lost. Saying their name does not diminish new relationships and the passing of time. Saying their name reminds us they lived and why they mattered.That’s not something we should ever forget. Say their name without apology and with happiness for all the joy you shared.
Sending you so much love this holiday season.
Read more from Michelle in her new best-selling book, Healthy Healing