Grief around the holiday season is no Secret Santa. “Surprise! Here’s this years’ gift of a heavy heart, and I even put it in this nice little jingle to serve as a constant reminder! I know you wanted a Groupon for that pottery class, but, well, yeah. Surprise?” That’s what the holidays can FEEL like when you’ve lost someone you love, and their presence is disturbingly palpable. But it’s not exactly a secret. No unwrapping has to take place to discover the unwanted. No gift receipt will serve you in making an exchange. If grief were gifts under the tree they’d all be opened up, and probably resemble an assortment of gadgets and gizmos with missing parts.
Because grief does that. It rearranges your life. So can I share with you a bit of advice on what you don’t want to do when special moments come, and call for our participatory celebration?
Act like you have not been rearranged.
Maybe your 1 month post grief, and all consumed. Maybe your 15 years, and you’ve made some room in you. Wherever you are in the stage of having your life turned inside out, I encourage you to (even consider) doing two things:
Acknowledge your Pain
Because almost nothing feels worse than resisting what is. If your current “what is” looks like rage, or sadness, or desperation, or complete misery… don’t wear a smile that doesn’t fit. It’s uncomfortable, it’s probably very obvious, and it’s just unnecessary. Instead, meet it. Meet your emotions where they are. This is not a time for “putting on” – anything other than comforting hugs and nourishing foods that is. Often though, we try to keep it together for the sake of family/ friends/ colleagues/ you know… “them.” And I get this, I really do. Most of us have grown up molded & encouraged to appear a way other than we experienced ourselves to be. For the sake of being “good,” feeling liked, accepted, “normal,” safe, worthy… Guess what grief does? It gives you uninhibited permission to throw everything that does not serve you the **** OUT. (*you choose what goes there)
With that said, I’m going to offer some ideas for how you can acknowledge this pain in a way that doesn’t completely shut you off from the world. Not for its sake, but because the only thing worse than how you feel, is feeling it devoid of any loving connection. Here are some ways you can acknowledge your pain, and remain connected. (i.e. I’m not suggesting to abandon yourself to a cave because it’s how you feel. Of course, you can (maybe?) I’m just saying, there’s ways of expressing that lead to healing, and ways that lead to self destruction. Cave might equal destruction. I’m going for authenticity + healing here.)
We took on this idea last year, when we reached out to our family and Jami’s friends asking them to write a letter. Each person was asked to write Jami something that we could put in her stocking and read on Christmas day (or whenever we chose.) It was incredible to hear nuances of Jami through the perspective of so many experiences outside of our own. It was a time filled to the brim with tears, but it wasn’t all that was there. That’s what happens when you give grief attention. Room is made. We laughed, we reminisced, and we felt her spirit there in a way that forgoing our acknowledgement of this very collective pain would not have lead to.
Create Something New
Live into a different tradition this year. Write your own story, a new story, this time. Rent a cabin in the Poconos with friends or family and experience the holidays – heck, forget “holidays” if you want – experience the beautiful season – with opened eyes. Let their absence not simply be palpable, but inspire you to change your reality. It is already, so why not go with it?
This is not a command, but a very strong encouragement. Grief can lure you into a void if you let it. While it’s cathartic and healing to acknowledge your pain, consider letting that not be the only thing you see. Oftentimes grief will be something we either avoid, or become swallowed by. When you meet your emotions where they are you are not avoiding, not resisting, not staving off your experience. You probably know that “what you resist persists” so bravo for not prolonging your suffering by turning your eyes away. On the flipside, when you do look at your pain, it might feel all encompassing. This might suggest to you that you have lost your way, your sense of self, your life entirely in the underbelly of longing. Do not be tempted by this, as you still have a choice. You can choose your focus. And honestly, this is much easier to see when you actually DO first acknowledge your pain. When you look at the shadow, which is to say when you “avoid your pain by not looking at it” then the shadow takes up the whole wall. When you look at the source, the monster of grief, it might be the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen – but it pales in comparison to the shadow that looms when looking away.
Confronting makes space. The shadow isn’t taking up so much of your vision anymore. And space literally makes room, room that you can fill with other things. It’s never about avoiding your grief, and wearing the smile. Standing strong and pushing through. The idea that this bucking up is in any way brave, or necessary, or in service to your healing, is a facade. That thinking is like a mirage, and it leads to nowhere land. It’s similar territory to the cave, and remember – we’re not embarking there. This is about letting what is, be. Ending the struggle for your experience to be any other way than what it is. Settling down. Stopping the fight.
Meet yourself wherever you are. You deserve that. Cry your tears, make tangible the turmoil so its’ shadow stops scaring you. When you make room for this, you don’t have to unnaturally participate in celebration or gratitude. When you guide a child in working through their tantrum AKA “bigger emotions than their psyche can handle” the meal/ the trip/ the event is easier to authentically enjoy together. Spanking the behavior AKA “outward expression of unprocessable emotion(s)” away and forcing the meal or dragging them to the event is the mirage that looks like it’s going to get you where you want but in this case leads to an outward resentment and loss of trust. This handling turns self inflicted when we grow to mimic this kind of parenting toward our own adult experience in life, in grief, in the seemingly unprocessable. Your pain is like an inner tantrum that needs help being processed, not thwarted or shut down.
What our grief needs, is room. See that it’s there. Then allow in some semblance of celebration, of hope, of something good, in the space you created to house more than just your shadows – more than only your pain.
You deserve that, and are worthy of it.
To the healing and the happy that you find in this years holiday season,