Christmas and Grief: An Anniversary Reaction Time

 

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.

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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.

Grief Support OnLine Course is Coming Soon

In last month’s newsletter I mentioned that within the month we would release the Grief Support Certification Training as an Online program. October ended up being a very full month of travel and work for me, and so the Online training product is not yet ready for release.

I have been delivering the Grief Certification Training in a class-room-style setting since 2004 and included in the Online training all the components taught in that program. Since I still have more work to do on the Online training program I thought it a good idea to ask all you, especially those of you who have already taken the training, and those of you who would like to take the Grief Support Certification training so as to be certified as a Grief Support Counselor, to tell me the top two items you believe must definitely be included in the Grief Support Certification Online Training program.

Please leave your comments including your top-two must-include items on my blog or email me at jane@takingflightinternational.com

 

Thank you so much for your contributions

When Suicide Looms: Saving a Child’s Life

Jane A. Simington, PHD ©2015

Ten year old Chantal died by suicide. Two years later, her still-grieving mother brought Chantal’s younger sister Maria for counseling. The alarmed mother revealed that Maria, who had recently celebrated her tenth birthday, was expressing a desire to kill herself.

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Last month, this same Marie turned 18 years of age. She is about to complete her first year of college. During an interview, Maria described the strategies that made the greatest difference in helping her chose life over death. Based on what was most effective for her during those crisis days, Maria made these recommendations to use when attempting to prevent a childhood suicide.

 

 

  • 1) Until you understand the motives behind suicidal thoughts and expressions, it is best to avoid talking about the grief and sadness suicide would cause the family. Maria pointed out that both she and her sister had been abused by the man who lived with their mother. Her thoughts of suicide were often triggered by feelings of hatred, which led to considerations of ways to make him suffer pain, somewhat similar to that which he had caused her sister and her.

 

  • 2) Do a reality check of the child’s perception of death. Maria emphasized that during times when she felt overwhelmed, ideas of suicide saturated her mind and she needed some straight-forward questions to help her process facts about the finality of death and the lack of possibilities following death. Maria noted that the reality check was especially valuable when she was asked to identify events, such as graduation, marriage, and having a child that her sister Chantal would not experience, and to then ponder the lack of those same events in her own life should she choose death.

 

  • 3)  Ask this vital question. “How will killing yourself help?” Maria related that reflecting on this question allowed her to recognize she was really searching for ways to release intense emotional and spiritual pain. She acknowledged that this confronting question, and the following one, “Are there other ways you could make the same result happen?” provided an openness for her exploration of options to heal childhood abuse and other early traumas.

 

  • 4)  Monitor the connections between triggers, dissociation, and suicide ideation. During her first appointment I recognized that Maria was triggered by her bodily reactions to memories of abuse and would often become dissociative as she spoke of the abuser. During the interview that took place, some eight years post survival, Maria emphasized that teaching her to use rocks for grounding and to use various breathing, meditation and imagery techniques to keep her from dissociating, not only helped her survive critical moments but also led to doorways that opened to spiritual exploration which helped her become the woman she is proud to be. Maria recalled that during one particularly difficult week, when the threads between life and death were thin, she believed she survived, knowing that during her session she would be wrapped and safely contained within a soft, light-weight, eagle-imprinted, blue blanket.

 

  • 5)  Cleanse and seal the aura. Trauma can fracture the human aura leaving the person vulnerable to spiritual intrusions. Seasoned therapists, experienced in helping those who threaten suicide, concur with Catherine Reimer.1 Her research revealed that many youth who are suicidal, report hearing voices. Maria stated she felt immense relief when asked. ”Do voices speak to you about suicide?” Maria reported feeling “a moment of healing” when she recognized that someone was validating her experiences of hearing voices encouraging her to kill herself. Maria emphasized that the cleansing and sealing of her aura 2 was likely the pivotal moment, turning her from terror to inner calm, from despair to hope.

Suicide has become increasingly more common than in years gone by. US statistics indicate that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for children ages 10-14 and the third leading cause of death for teenagers 15-19. Experts suggest that increasing protective factors have a greater impact on suicide rates than does decreasing risk factors. Supportive factors include: providing support and counseling; teaching creative problem solving; building self-worth through validation and affirmation; offering programs to heal trauma and grief; providing classroom education on the symptoms of depression, and helping the child establish and reestablish spiritual connections

We have all heard that it takes a whole community to raise a child. Whether we are a professional or a lay person, each of us can make a difference. A word of kindness may save a life.

Reference

 

1) Reimer, C. (2013) Circle of Swans: Journey of a Native American Counselor. Iviksik: Seattle, WA.

 

2) Simington, J. (2011). Shielded With Light: A Guide for Cleansing and Sealing Your Aura. (CD).Edmonton, AB: Taking Flight Books.