Many Grievers Wish They Could Skip the Holidays, but the holidays come just the same. A joyous time. A festive time. A time when families and friends celebrate the passage of another year and the coming of a new year. But not everyone will feel like celebrating or feel joyous. Adapting to the absence of someone important in your life is difficult enough. But the first holiday season, with its constant reminders of family, coupled with holiday joy and tradition, can be especially painful. For grieving people, if this is the first year since the death of someone important, the holidays may be very difficult. Since time does not heal emotional wounds, subsequent holiday times may be painful and awkward. Even surrounded by family and friends, grievers may feel isolated, alone, and as if no one understands.
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss. In general, it is marked by conflicting emotions that result from the change or end in a familiar pattern of behavior. But more specifically, from the standpoint of the grieving person, "Grief is the feeling of reaching out for someone who has always been there, only to find when we need them one more time, they are no longer there." It's normal to worry that you won't be able to handle the pain of that first holiday season, whether the missing person is a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, child or a faithful pet. You may even think you'd rather skip holiday gatherings. Those feelings and fears are not illogical or irrational. They represent a normal, healthy range of emotions about painful loss and our society's limited ability to talk openly and honestly about grief. We all experience losses and we all grieve. Yet, grief is one of the most off-limits topics for discussion in our society. It seems strange that one of the experiences we are all going to have, is the one experience we are ill-prepared for and ill-equipped to talk about. Even more troubling is all the misinformation passed on about grief.
We have been taught to believe that "time heals all wounds." So people will say, "It just takes time." The griever assumes the advice to be correct and waits while time goes by. But time is neutral and does nothing but pass. People also say, "You have to be strong for the children" [or other family members]. So, we pass that on to the griever, who dutifully acts strong for the kids, while burying their own feelings deeper and deeper. Worse, while acting strong for the children, they demonstrate "not feeling," which teaches the child to hide his or her feelings also. We have been socialized to believe that intellectual remarks will help with emotional conflict. So, grievers are told, "Don't feel bad, he led such a full life." Maybe he did. But the griever is in emotional turmoil, and that comment, which may be intellectually accurate is not emotionally helpful. None of the pat remarks help grievers take the correct and necessary steps that lead to recovery from the unfinished emotional business that accrues in all relationships. Rather, the griever is led down a path that leads to more isolation and loneliness.
What do grievers want? People who have experienced the death of a loved one most want to talk about what happened and their relationship with the person who died. This holiday season, there will be plenty of hurting people who, given the opportunity, will want to talk about someone they miss. You will be a most cherished friend or family member if the grieving person feels safe enough to talk to you about what is so foremost on their heart and mind. If they don't want to talk about it, don't be offended. But please give them the opportunity. At the very least, I suggest that you to bring up the topic, and allow them to decide if they want to talk about it. If you're thinking that it is an awkward question and you don't know how to ask it, I agree with you. So, here's a simple phrase which allows the griever to respond or not as they see fit. Say, "I can't imagine what this has been like for you, since your_*****_died."
If a friend has something wonderful happen for them, we wouldn't dream of not asking all about it. You know they really want to tell us all about it. We must adopt a parallel notion when something sad or upsetting has happened. We know, in many cases, they really want to talk about it. If people don't feel safe to talk, they may find other ways to soothe themselves. That could include alcohol, drugs and food— which are usually in plentiful supply at holiday time, and which may have negative or disastrous consequences. As a caring person, you must take the risk: Communication has its risks. Bringing up a loss— yours or someone else's— may not be welcomed. Good taste and timing are important. As a griever, always take the opportunity to mention your deceased loved one and say how much you miss her/him. Invariably, the others at the table start talking about people they miss. The stories and the memories they evoke are filled with laughter and tears.
Being afraid of sad feelings can deprive us of the treasure trove of memories attached to relationships with people who have died. Overcoming this fear, especially at holiday time, allows us to claim the full memory of the people we miss. People are surprised to discover that even though there may be some sadness, there may be plenty of joy as well.
Recovery from loss is achieved by a series of small and correct choices made by the griever, courageous risks by the caring and the sharing of stories.
In SaddleBrooke we offer a grief support group which meets every Sunday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Coyote Room of HOA-1.
We invite anyone who has experienced any loss to join us.
There are always experienced facilitators present.
The group is private (what is said here, stays here.)
This is a Free Service provided by SaddleBrooke Health & Wellness for all residents of SaddleBrooke One & Two. Questions? Call Dolores at (520) 825-8980.
Dolores Hutchinson Robu, has devoted her primary practice to assisting survivors who have experienced the loss of a loved one. In 40+ years of practice, it has become evident that survivors experience a healthier journey through Grief when they are guided in a professionally facilitated group that helps to normalize their experiences and increase their support system.