Thursday, December 23, 2010

Getting through the holidays

Grieving is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The world felt like brittle glass; an awkward movement might suddenly shatter it. Sleep was a problem, except when I dreamt that his death was a hoax. Waking was a problem because my mind did not work; I would start something, then find myself in another part of the house, wondering why. Some days felt so bad I simply cancelled them and went back to bed. Surely the next day would be better than the one I was in. Someday I would not feel so crushed, broken and lost.

In early grief, it seems impossible to accomplish even the smallest task. We force ourselves because we know no alternative. Food must be eaten, bills need to be paid, you have to work, the children have to go to school. These children (and teenagers) need you to show them how to get through this pain. They need a model of how to live while grieving, how to heal and enjoy life again.

Holidays are perfect for this. Creating a family celebration despite your grief, or even because of it will not be easy. I can't promise it will even feel good. But finding a way to keep your traditions, simplified if necessary, will ultimately help you and your children understand, in a concrete way, that you CAN get through the sadness.

You don't have to do everything, but it is better to continue your life than to cancel it. It will take time to find it but there is joy in the midst of your sorrow. Continue to love. Light some candles, put on some music, decorate, share meals and thoughtful gifts. Remember something funny. Give yourself a metaphoric pat on the back once the holiday is over – you managed to get through it. Be compassionate to yourself. Raise a glass of something and offer a toast of gratitude.

Here are some tips that worked well for me over the years.

1. Only do what feels right but add a tiny bit more than you think you can handle.

2. Proceed As If…as if it feels okay, even though it doesn't.

3. Identify the most important things to do and let go of the rest.

4. Don't believe anyone who tells you how long grief should last. No one really understands, even if they insist that they do.

5. Don't let anyone tell you how you should feel. Don't listen to anyone who says you are "supposed to" or you "should". If someone says something hurtful, ignore it the first time. They may simply be unaware. If someone repeatedly says hurtful things, stop having contact with them for a while.

6. Allow yourself to cry; holding it in is destructive. Go to a quiet place, give yourself permission, a time limit and let it all out. Roll on the floor if you feel like it, rock back and forth, do anything that helps you release the intense emotions that are washing over you. After you reach your time limit, slow your breathing and hug yourself. Be thankful for the release. Wash your face with cold water, give yourself a little shake and return to whatever you were doing.

7. Repeat number 2 as necessary.

8. Drink a lot of water.

9. Talk about your loved one, as naturally as you can. Other people will be afraid to mention the name, for fear of "upsetting" you. Bring up his/her name, casually, often. We honor them by remembering them.

I wish you all a peaceful, compassionate holiday.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Claudia,

    Thank you for sharing your Karuna Blog with me.

    I wish you peaceful holidays as well. For me, too, here at the North East, this is a sacred time for contemplation and self-care. Gratitude for Life and recognition of its mystery seem to rise to the surface.
    I returned from a trip to Israel recently, where I spent time in the dessert, climbing Mount Masada, overlooking the dead sea and taking a walk on the Mediterranean shore in Tel-Aviv, and, of course, visiting family. The oases are bursting with blooms. It is a time for renewal there. I then flew 12 hours to NY, where the trees are bare and the shore is blustery, and as I spend time in nature now, I keep those images of renewal within.