By Melissa Fickling, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
Even though feelings of grief and loss are common, many people mistakenly think that they should “get over” these feelings quickly and privately, without letting others know the depth of their pain. There are unwritten and unspoken social rules around grief and loss which can lead to denying and stuffing down feelings. Some people numb their feelings with excessive consumption – an unhealthy standard that is readily accepted during the holiday season: excessive drinking, eating, or spending money is common at this time of year. This unexpressed grief can have unwanted consequences on our wellness. It can be especially tempting to “stuff down” our feelings of loss, loneliness, and sadness around the holidays when it can seem like everyone else is in high spirits.
We can grieve any number of losses. Most commonly we think of loved ones who have passed away, but we can also grieve the ending of a relationship, or the loss of a job, identity, or role. We can grieve experiences that we hoped we would have but now realize we may never have, such as becoming pregnant. We can feel loss related to aging or changes in our health. We can experience grief and loss during any expected or unexpected life transition. And since life is always changing, we can experience these feelings to varying degrees all the time.
The holidays can be a bittersweet time. Here are some positive ways you might want to deal with feelings of grief and loss during the holidays.
Community. The important of finding a community of support cannot be overstated. A community group, spiritual or religious community, and even online groups can be helpful. Be open about how you are feeling and try to find a group specifically focused on grief so that you can feel open about sharing. If you share custody of your children, you may have to be away from them for the first time during a major holiday. See if you can join a friend’s family for festivities. It can be fun to be around someone else’s family on a holiday if yours is far away or if being with your own family causes more pain than holiday cheer.
Counseling. Many hospice and palliative care organizations offer grief counseling at little to no cost. Find a hospice organization near you and ask if they offer this. If they don’t, they will be able to connect you to helpful resources. If you are trying to help someone who is grieving, understand that people grieve differently. The important thing to do is let your friend know that you are willing to talk or connect them with resources if that is something they want.
Take Your Time. You do not need to “get over” a loss. In keeping with the theme of self-care, when it comes to grief and loss, you do not need to apologize for your feelings. By avoiding your feelings now, you will probably not bypass the healing process, only delay it. Sometimes it can be helpful to actually schedule time to grieve. For example, you can reserve a day next weekend to focus completely on the person or circumstance you are missing. This could include journaling, going for a walk, visiting a favorite spot, watching a movie or listening to music which holds special meaning.
Finally, remember that having these feelings means you are a sensitive person – they are never a sign of weakness. There will be good days and harder days. The loss you have experienced may be part of your life forever, and how much emotional space it takes up for you may ebb and flow over time. The holiday season can give us warm feelings and also remind us of those raw places in our hearts. Take good care of yourself always, and especially during this time of year.
Melissa J. Fickling, MA, LPC, NCC is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Counseling & Educational Development at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is the instructor for CED 574A: Women’s Issues in Counseling for the 2014-2015 academic year. Melissa has worked as a counselor in college, community, and private practice settings where she specializes in issues related to work, career, and transition. Melissa completed her doctoral cognate in Women’s and Gender Studies at UNCG. She is on track to graduate with her Ph.D. in May of 2015. Her dissertation is examining career counselors’ perceptions of social justice advocacy behaviors.