Christmas and Grief: An Anniversary Reaction Time
© Jane Simington, PHD.
Anniversary reactions can be times of intense emotional struggle for the bereaved. Anniversary reactions are experienced usually for a number of years following a death. These often occur at times that held a lot of family time and are often associated with ceremony and celebration. Following the death, the bereaved will often feel an incresed sense of loss during such times. Each annivesary makes them more aware of the finality of the relationship they have had.
Here are some activities I have used and found to be both personally and professionally helpful. While I titled this Christmas and Grief, most of these strategies can be applied any time there is a need to prepare for an anniversary situation. It is well recognized that “preparing for” can alleviate much anxiety. When we are “prepared” we tend to move through the experience with more emotional ease than when we are “caught off guard.”
1) Acknowledge that Christmas is coming and that this may be a difficult time for you and your family.
I find that acknowledging and planning help us get through difficult times. It is when we allow things to simply happen, for example, if we just “float” into Christmas, we can more easily get caught off-guard and become overwhelmed.
2) Avoid being caught up in what you “should” do, wasting a lot of time and energy on feeling obligated.
Instead, decide what it is you really want to do and then place your energy into planning for that, by making a list. Letting others know and perhaps even asking for help to ensure that what you want to take place does indeed happen. If you do not plan ahead it will likely not happen.
3) Remember there are no right and/or wrong ways to celebrate Christmas.
There are many lovely restaurants that now offer a beautiful meal. Some even have soft music, gentle songs and harp playing on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They are becoming so popular you must make sure to have a reservation. A week at the Ocean, relaxing in the sun at an all-inclusive resort may be better than any amount of grief therapy you could receive this season. What about a ski weekend? One older woman decided to spend her first Christmas alone serving meals at a community kitchen for the homeless. She told me it was one of her most fulfilling experiences. Could someone else do the cooking this year? Is it essential to have a turkey dinner? Would a roast of beef work as well? Can you serve buffet style instead of a sit-down dinner?
4) It is okay to create new traditions
After my son’s death, I found it important to acknowledge that Christmas would never be the same for my family. Once I acknowledged that, I was able to make the decision to do my best to make the season and the day as good as possible. And from then on, even though it was not “great,” it was “okay.” Making that decision freed me up to make the choices that were right for me and my family. Part of making those choices involved creating new traditions.
Remember, all traditions started by someone changing the order of the way things were done. If you don’t like what you do this year than you can change it again next year. You may try hanging a new ornament in memory of your loved one who has died. Donate money to a favorite charity using the amount of money you would have spent on your loved one’s Christmas gift. Create a collage of favorite past Christmas pictures and honor the good times had. Decorate your loved one’s picture frame in a beautiful Christmas motif. Place a plant on the gravesite, or donate a plant to be placed on the altar in your church.
5) Honor your feelings and let others know you will need to do so.
When you accept an invitation, it may be important to tell your host and hostess that this is a difficult time of year for you and that you may only be able to stay a short time. Then allow yourself to leave when you need to.
6) Spend your time only with friends and family who can support you.
You do not have the energy right now to pretend. Be with those who are comfortable with your need to cry and to sometimes be withdrawn and alone. Be with friends who are comfortable when you talk about your loved one. Friendships change during grief, as do family relationships.
7) Spending money on yourself and looking nice does not dishonor the one who has died.
Buying a new outfit, wearing makeup or jewelry, and spending money on a massage, manicure or pedicure or even on travel are all excellent self-care strategies. These in no way indicate you are not grieving, nor do they say you do not treasure the one who has died. They do say you are trying to move through this difficult process in the best way possible.
8) Honor your true feelings
Cry when you feel sad and lonely and also allow moments of joy to creep in. It is okay to smile again. It is even okay to have a laugh or two.
9) Take good care of your physical self
Eat nutritionally; get some physical exercise. Limit alcohol intake. While it can initially make you feel relaxed, it can quickly depress and make your feelings erupt out of control. It is also easy to make it a habit of “drowning” sorrows. Limit caffeine intake; it can interferes with the sleep, so needed during times of grief.
10) Find beauty in the season
Let the sights and sounds and smells of the season enter your empty spaces. While this will not evaporate your grief, it is a step forward – and that is what grief recovery is all about…one small step at a time.
11) Go for a winter stroll.
Spending time in nature is a very healing strategy. Nature helps us remember the cycle of life and death and by doing so brings new hope and promise into our lives. Many find nature to be the greatest healer. It was for me, personally. Beginning a “walking out of doors program,” was the best thing I did for myself. I can now honestly say “I walked my grief away.”
12) Give yourself permission to add some peace-filled moments to this Blue Christmas
This particular Christmas will be a part of your life story. Make a conscious effort to include deeds and celebration aspects that, when shared years from now with others who are grieving, you will be able to say “This really worked for me. In doing so, you will add some light to their darkness.
Simington, J. Christmas and Grief: An Anniversary Reaction Time. Taking Flight Books. Edmonton, Alberta.