Are you hurting this Christmas? You are not alone.
Sometimes Christmas doesn’t feel so jolly and merry. For those dealing with loss and sadness this Christmas, the holidays can really intensify our feelings of loneliness, sorrow, and grief. What used to be an exciting and fun time of year for us can now be an onslaught of blistering reminders of what we’ve lost.
If someone we love has died or become seriously ill, or if we’re suffering loss due to divorce or the break-up of a serious relationship or estrangement from a family member, then seeing others merrymaking with their loved ones can sting pretty bad. If we’re unemployed and struggling with the loss of financial security, then the pressure to buy gifts, and seeing everyone else spending money like there’s no tomorrow, can really rub salt in our wounds.
Whatever loss we’re experiencing, the holidays can seem like everyone else in the world is celebrating and having a good time while we’re overwhelmed with sadness and frustration.
Many of my clients tell me they wish they could simply crawl under a rock and not come out until after the first of the year.
Aside from crawling under a rock, how can I make it through the holidays when my heart is broken?
One of the best ways to deal with the holidays when you’re really hurting is to plan ahead. Not only does this lessen the likelihood that you’ll be caught off guard by difficult situations, but It can be a huge relief to plan not only what you are going to do during the holidays, but also what you are NOT going to do!
Start by coming up with your “Not To Do” list:
Grief and loss can take a huge toll on us, sapping us of every ounce of energy. We can easily be overwhelmed by even the smallest details. So it’s very important to decide in advance what parts of the holiday you’re just not up to this year. Simply crossing these things off your list can make the holidays feel much more manageable.
For example, the idea of putting up decorations this year might seem particularly distressing. Perhaps your deceased loved one always put up the Christmas tree, and even thinking about putting up a tree this year can send you into an emotional tailspin. Other things may need to go by the wayside this year: sending out Christmas cards, planning and preparing a big Christmas dinner, and/or shopping for gifts can all feel overwhelming when you’re grieving a big loss. If so, give yourself a pass and don’t feel guilty about it!
Next, make your “To Do” list:
Plan what parts of the holidays you do want to participate in or think you may be up for. Choose just one party or family event that you think you will enjoy, and do that – only that!
Let all the rest go.
Choose just one decoration to put out and leave the rest for next year maybe. Perhaps you’ve always loved the Christmas Eve candlelight service – it’s where you connect most deeply with the true meaning of Christmas. And if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one whom you previously attended that service with, go to a different Christmas service.
Finally, make a “Try Something New” list:
This may be a good time to try something new – so think outside the box a bit. Spend the holiday in a new place, doing something totally different.
Volunteer to help others. Helping others can be the very best pain reliever. Help serve a holiday meal. In the weeks leading up to big event holidays, your local food bank could definitely use your help. Or offer up your time to a charity, like ones that alleviate poverty or drug-related deaths or benefit animal welfare.
And if you’ve lost a loved one, find ways to include memories of them into your holidays. This is the best way to feel close to them and fill the hole left by their absence. Light a candle each day in memory of them.
Put out a ‘memory stocking’ or ‘memory box’ where you and others can write down treasured memories of your loved one; then schedule a special time to read them together.
And once I have a plan, then what?
Share it with your family and friends. And be honest - tell them what you ARE up for doing during the holidays and what you’re NOT up for. Ignore people who want to tell you what you “should” do for the holiday. Listen to yourself, trust yourself, communicate with your family, and do what works best for you!
Give yourself permission to say no!
Don’t feel obligated to say yes. We worry so much about hurting other people’s feelings that it shuts down our ability to think through what’s in our best interest.
My advice: BE SELFISH. If you think you’re going to feel too sad, angry, jealous, or upset by seeing all your friends or other family members so dang merry and filled with holiday cheer, then you shouldn’t go.
And no – this isn’t a strategy for everything going forward; we can’t hole up forever. But the holidays can pack a really big wallop to us when we’re grieving and depressed, so it’s really important that we do whatever we can to take care of ourselves.
What are some ways that I can take care of myself during the holidays?
See a grief counselor. The holidays are especially tough, so this can be a very good time to get support from someone who can help you through this difficult time.
Attend a grief support group such as the one I lead here at HPUMC. It can be a huge help to know you’re not alone and to be with others who understand what you’re going through.
Attend our Service of the Longest Night on Tuesday evening, December 18th at 6:30 pm in Cox Chapel. This very beautiful, candlelight service recognizes both the darkness that exists in our lives, as well as the divine Light that shines out from the heart of all darkness. It helps us remember the true meaning of Christmas: that we are not alone and that the Light of Christ will come again.
Dr. Jana Rentzel is a grief and loss specialist in private practice and an active member of HPUMC where she leads support groups for those who are experiencing loss and grief.
For more info on how to survive the holidays when struggling with loss, go to www.JanaRentzel.com.