How to Get Through the Holidays When We Are Grieving a Loss

It has been imprinted on our psyche from an early age that holidays are the time to spend with our family and loved ones. In an ideal world with complete happy and well-functioning families, that is a wonderful thing. However, what if we are still grieving the loss of a family member who has passed, or we live in a split-up family, or we cannot seem to make the dream of a family come true due to fertility issues or not finding the right partner, or we are experiencing another loss, like the loss of our health, our job, our pet, our home and so on? There are so many situations in which the holidays can deepen our sadness and magnify our pain.

The loss of a family member—whether loved or not so loved—or the break of the original family unit, tends to bring out in families what already existed under the surface but could be ignored until the loss occurred. Those relationships which were struggling prior to the loss now become obvious. Missing bonds, hurt feelings, dysfunctional family patterns are suddenly right out in the open. The loss of one family member or the split of the family into two separate units naturally changes the dynamics between everybody. Coupled with the grief everybody is feeling and expressing differently, the issues which were already part of this family’s interactions are multiplied. Suddenly, family members are triggering each other into emotional responses, and the ideal of the harmonious peaceful holiday time seems to go up in smoke.

  • There is the young woman who has been trying to conceive for eight years now and who is supposed to spend the holidays with her in-laws and with not just one, but two pregnant and much younger sister-in-law’s. The soon to be grandparents, who do not know about her struggles, are ecstatic. Her own pain is equally big and seems unbearable, but worse is her Inner Critic that tells her not to be so selfish and that she should be happy for her sister-in-law’s.
  • There is the son, who always felt that he couldn’t measure up to his brother and compete for the love of his mother. After the death of his father, he feels even more isolated, has a fallout with his mom, and chooses not to spend Christmas with his family.
  • There is the widower whose wife used to be his best friend, his lover, his one and all and who is still trying to come to terms with her dying from an aggressive form of cancer within only a few months. He has no children to help him through this first Christmas alone and will need a friend to reach out to him.
  • There is the daughter, who felt she had to side with her mother against her father in a divorce and did not get another opportunity to have a relationship with him as she was growing up. She learns the limiting belief that men can’t be trusted and that close relationships with men are unavailable to her. She chooses to get back into an unfulfilling relationship just before Christmas when it is the hardest to be alone.
  • There is the granddaughter, who was very close to her grandmother and experiences her being replaced by her grandfather’s new girlfriend soon after. She feels deep sadness and starts to wonder about men and their loyalties. When she invites her grandfather for Christmas Eve as it is their family tradition, he refuses and spends the evening with his new girlfriend; her beliefs are confirmed.
  • There is the widow, who forces herself to do everything as usual to be strong for the kids and she shoulders not just her former workload but also the one of her deceased husband. By the time Christmas Eve arrives, she is taken to the hospital with a lung infection she has ignored.

These are all real people I am referring to and I could go on but I would rather share some strategies of how to get through the holidays when there is a recent or unprocessed loss, whether that is the loss of a person, or a relationship, or a dream.

The first decision to make is, do you even want to go through the regular Christmas routine? You can change the routine to something more normal like ordering in food and watching a movie together. Anything that feels too overwhelming, you are allowed to skip. The big holiday decorations, the festive meal, sending holiday cards, buying gifts for people beyond your immediate family, spending time with family members that trigger your sense of loss… Whatever it might be that makes you feel like you are simply going through the motions, give yourself permission to drop. There is no right or wrong way to do the holidays. In fact, loss has a way of encouraging us to evaluate what parts of the holidays feed our soul and which parts don’t. It is even okay to cancel the holidays altogether and to go away. Often a change of scenery is exactly what you might need.

If you want to spend the holidays in your traditional way with your family, be gentle with yourself and compassionate with others. We all grieve in a different way. What might look like anger or even destruction can hide a lot of pain, what might seem like indifference might be an equally strong protection from feeling the loss. We are literally not ourselves when we are grieving. The first time to make major decisions is right after a big loss when our emotions are flying high.

Nobody asks to experience a loss, or as a client of mine phrased it: “The splitting up of my family was never what I wanted, never what I imagined, never what I dreamed of.” Yet, at the other side of the grief we realize that we are not alone. Everybody experiences losses at some point in their life. We can always reach out to the Greater Power and asked to be carried through a time like the holidays. Remember that we are all connected.

Allow others to help. There is no shame in needing help, on the contrary. Accept their practical help at this time of the year, and share with them what is going on for you internally. Let them know they are not expected to fix anything, but that it helps to simply vocalize your thoughts and feelings. Isn’t that what the holidays are all about? Love and support?

Remember that crying is okay. You do not need to be strong for others. Acknowledging your own sadness and grief can help others to do the same. Make sure you talk to kids as their grief can be overlooked or forgotten. Explain to them what is happening and why you feel the way you feel. Often children have a healthier attitude towards death than we do as adults, but they still need to process the loss of a loved one who passed or the loss of their family which broke apart.

If you are getting together with your family and you want to remember the family member you have just lost, communicate beforehand how you would like to do that. Allow everybody to partake or also to not partake, keeping in mind that we all grieve differently. If it feels right, you could light a candle or share memories or photos of your family member. Consider what this person’s legacy is and how you as a family want to continue living this legacy. Were they perhaps a charitable person or known for helping others? Were they musical or loved telling jokes? Did they like arts and crafts? Where they a good listener? etc. You might then decide to donate something to charity in their name, bring in the music or jokes, make a holiday ornament in their memory, adopt your loved ones listening stance and so on.

And last but not least, if you have been putting off getting professional help and for example seeing a coach or counsellor, now might be the right time. The holidays are tough to get through. Reach out to get the support you need.

Contact Angelika for grief work or fertility work 

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

If you want to read more about how grief accumulates you can read the article “Recovering from Our Losses”.

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Oranges and Tobogganing

Did you know that December is one of the busiest times in hospitals? Not only do more health issues occur due to overeating, or injuries as a result of shoveling snow or slipping on ice, but many of the health issues are connected to stress and family dramas. The emotions are flying high: overwhelm, anger, sadness and grief, just to mention a few, are triggered, and our emotional state affects our physical health. Sadly, one of the stress factors is gift giving itself. It can be stressful to run around getting gifts for several people and to juggle the financial expenses which can put us over budget or even into debt.

On December 13, my friend Dhebi DeWitz and I offered a free webinar to address the emotions which are triggered at this time of the year. One of the questions that came in during the holiday webinar was how to handle receiving gifts from people and having to reciprocate when your budget is limited. That was such an excellent question!

Is it possible that we have forgotten what our holiday celebrations are about? Do our children really need a pile of toys? Or do they need family members who are present, who listen well and connect from the heart? And as far as gift giving is concerned, ask yourself for a moment what the best gift is that you have ever received. For me, a few homemade and personal gifts come to mind which really stood out: a well written and thoughtful card which told me how much I meant to somebody, or something self-made.

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There is a whole long list of things we could come up with to create meaningful gifts: baking, knitting, crocheting, stitching, sewing, jewellery making, drawing, painting, making soaps, and so on. I received a wonderful mix of bath salts for tired feet beautifully put together in a jar from a friend this year and I know there will be more self-made presents under the tree.

Gifts neither need to be expensive, nor complicated to make. It just needs to come from the heart. One of my daughters just gave her Christmas gift to her boyfriend. It’s a jar full of Hershey kisses; to each chocolate kiss she attached a note which tells him what’s wonderful about him.

One of my clients, a beautiful and conscious young woman who was born in Russia, shared with me how they had very little back home. The grown-ups felt grateful when they had the ingredients to bake a cake and to bring oranges home. She remembers going tobogganing with her siblings and friends. Winter holidays still mean oranges and tobogganing to her.

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Have we perhaps fallen prey to the idea that our holiday celebrations need to be grand and extravagant? Have we forgotten what the magic of Christmas truly means?

Three years ago, a friend of mine, who is the amazing mom of a little son, posted on Facebook about her decision not to lie to her son that Santa exists. She was struggling with the concept of tricking children into believing a mystical figure is real, basically lying to our children when we are trying to teach them to be honest. She also had trouble—and I can empathize—with the concept of calling somebody “good” or “bad”, when really there is just an undesirable behaviour the child might display. Telling the truth—and not to potentially jeopardize a trusting relationship with her son—was more important to her than to fully join in the Santa tradition. She caused an avalanche of replies, some quite heated as everybody had an opinion on this.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asking my friend how she has handled this fine balance between not lying to her son while allowing for the magic of Christmas. She shared how their experience is different: her son does not make a long list of material things he wants. There is also no threatening him to behave well, or have presents taken away. Christmas feels fun and easy to her while other parents with young kids that she knows are more stressed about struggling to get what their child asked for to keep up the Santa myth. This year, she is planning to have one gift under the tree with no name on it to make it a fun mystery for her son who the present is from.

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So what exactly causes this magical holiday feeling and where does it come from? Is that feeling of hope and belief in goodness tied to Santa and extravagant gifts? Or is it the belief that everything is possible? The exciting feeling that there is magic? The unwavering conviction that life is a fantastic adventure full of amazing surprises? The deep trust that there is Love all around?

I grew up—and with me a whole nation of Germans—never believing in Santa. Christmas was still magical and exciting. It was a time of joy and surprises, a time for family and being present with each other. I remember my parents most of the time feeling pressure to be productive—my father at work, my mother as a homemaker—except for occasions like Christmas, when they actually sat down with us. We had a big winter scene puzzle with 200 pieces we would do many years in a row, or we would play one of the two family board games we had. I still remember how good it felt to do these activities together. On December 24, the Christmas tree was finally put up—with real candles on it, no less—and there was magic alone in the lit tree.

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Germans celebrate Nikolaus Day on December 6th which goes back to the same historical figure as Santa Claus: Nikolaus von Myra, who lived at the beginning of the 4th century. On the night of December 5th, children put their polished shoes out in front of the door. The next morning they are filled with treats, with oranges, nuts and chocolates, brought by “Nikolaus”. People might jokingly say that “baby Jesus brings the presents” on December 24 but even children know this is just an expression.

My older daughter, who was five when we came to North America, never believed in Santa. She played along for the other children her age, but actually felt proud to know the truth and to be treated like an adult. Growing up in a multicultural environment made it easier to not be a Santa believer. However, she certainly completely gets what the spirit of Christmas is all about. She is one of the most giving, caring and non-materialistic people I know.

Santa is a mythical representation of a spirit we want to encourage: generous giving and love. At Christmas we can open up to feeling that Love is all around. And life IS a fantastic adventure full of amazing surprises. We can experience that excitement at any age. We are not slaves to our feelings. At any given time, we can change our perspective and decide to feel and live the magic of Christmas, simply with oranges and tobogganing, or our own personal versions thereof.

happy-holidays

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

Angelika, Belief Change Coach & Workshop Facilitator

905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

What Not To Say When Others Are Grieving

I was 19 years old when I was faced for the first time with not knowing what to say when somebody has lost a family member. I had a one room apartment in the city in which I was attending university. At the beginning of the month, I used to go downstairs to the landlord’s apartment to pay the rent. A week prior, my landlord had been admitted to hospital. As I was paying my December rent that year, I casually asked if he was feeling better. His wife replied that he had died. For a moment, I was speechless. It felt like kicking myself for asking her. Then I must have managed to stutter some words of condolence, but feeling extremely ill-equipped for this situation. I know I wasn’t alone with this feeling of not knowing how to speak words of real comfort. Unfortunately, nobody teaches us what to say or do when loss occurs.

When I returned to my apartment, I wondered who to call and to ask for advice. My mom, who had lost her own mother when she was young, broke out in tears each time anybody spoke about death. Today, I know she carried around a lot of unresolved grief. So I decided to call my grandmother instead. She was close to 80 at that time, and had experienced many losses during her life. She told me she always made sure she had a bunch of fresh flowers in a vase next to the picture of my late grandfather. She suggested to do the same for my landlady, to buy her flowers. She also recommended to check if I could help by getting groceries or do other errands for her.

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My landlady and her husband did not seem to have a very loving relationship; in fact, I often wondered if he physically and emotionally abused her. I didn’t want to assume that she would put up a picture of her husband with flowers next to it, yet this seemed better than any words I could think of.

In fact, there are several things which are particularly unhelpful to the grieving person.

  • “Don’t cry”, “don’t be sad”, “don’t feel bad” and so on denies the grieving person to have their own feelings.
  • “Time heals all wounds” or “just give it time”. Time itself does not heal. It is what we do with that time that will help us complete the pain caused by the loss.
  • Comments in regards to the person’s age: “He had a long life” or “Be grateful you had her for so long”. No matter how old our loved one was, we have a right to miss them.

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  • “You can have more children” or “be thankful you have another son” or “you are still young, you can get married again”. How can we possibly compare one loved one to another, or substitute one child or partner with another? The loss is always experienced at a 100%.
  • Comments of a religious nature, like “she is in heaven / in a better place” or “God will never give you more than you can handle”. No matter what my beliefs of an afterlife are, whether my loved one is in a better place or not has nothing to do with the loss I am experiencing. “God gave me this challenge because I can handle it” translates to “I have to be strong”. offer-to-do-laundry
  • “You have to be strong for…” or “the living must go on”. Instead of allowing ourselves to feel and to grieve, we are asked to suppress our feelings.
  • “I know how you feel”. All relationships are unique. Even if you and the grieving person for example have both lost your mother, your relationship with your mother was unique and completely different than his or hers. This also applies when you are experiencing the loss of the same person. You both had an individual and very different relationship to the dead person.
  • “You have to keep busy now” or “you must stay active”. Keeping busy buries the painful feelings while you distract yourself with activities, but at the end of the day the pain is exactly the same.

You might now wonder what is left that is actually helpful to say to a grieving person. The unhelpful comments originate from feeling uncomfortable with another person’s emotions. Remind yourself that it is okay to feel unpleasant feelings. You do not need to “fix” anything, you just need to be present. It can also be very healing to cry. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you know the person well enough you might want to offer them a hug. But be very sensitive whether this physical approach is welcome or not. Not everybody likes hugs.
  • Understand that people express grief differently. Don’t expect to see particular stages of grief. Some people might feel more emotional including angry. Others might withdraw because they have learned to grieve alone. Others might act as if they are just fine. Listen without judgment to their feelings.
  • A better alternative to “I know how you feel” is “I can’t imagine how you must feel” and then allow the griever to share how they actually feel.

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  • Listen. Listen. And don’t rush to hand over the Kleenex to stop the crying when the tears are flowing. Allow the grieving person to feel what they are feeling and to talk about the person they have lost and about their relationship. Hold a loving space. Refrain from making comments about yourself and your losses, or rushing the person to feel better. Be like a heart with big ears. There is nothing to do but to actively listen. Active listening means responding with facial expressions and sounds while you allow the other person to fully express their loss experience, including crying.
  • Every day tasks can be overwhelming when the grief is fresh. Lend a helping hand. Get groceries, cook food, do the laundry, do the gardening, walk the dog or take care of the little children.

Holiday celebrations are coming up and with them come unresolved grief. This time of the year can trigger great sadness for people. We might not be able to be with a wonderful loving family, because some of our beloved family members have passed on. So this can be a time of feeling loneliness and the pain of a loss.

That applies whether our family members have died or whether we have been estranged with them. You might also be of service to friends or family members when they are grieving an estrangement with somebody. Listen, non-judgmentally, to how they are feeling. You don’t need to fix it. It is also not at all helpful to commiserate with them and tell them what an awful person the family member they are missing was and that they are better off without him or her.

Some family members have brought so much toxicity into our lives that we had to opt for no contact with them, for example in the case of a narcissistic personality disorder or addictions. However, even though we might have made that choice for our own peace and well-being, we can still grieve that the relationship wasn’t “better, more or different”.

John W. James and Russell Friedman offer a way to achieve completion of all loss relationships with their grief recovery program. It’s an excellent program for death, divorce and over 40 other losses.

To purchase “The Grief Recovery Handbook” by John James & Russell Friedman from Amazon click here.

For individual sessions contact Angelika

Certified Grief Specialist, Belief Change Coach and Workshop Facilitator

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

 

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

“I Just Want Christmas to Be Over”

Opinions about the holiday season vary greatly. You come across people who truly love Christmas and you come across people who are not that thrilled the holidays are here once again; some even literally hate this time of the year.

How we feel about Christmas—and about celebrating this or other family holidays—depends a lot on what experiences we have had and what beliefs we have learned. Sometimes our apprehension might be connected to missing a person, sometimes to how we get to celebrate. In fact, it’s a time in which we are really tested in regards to negotiating compromises.

With the permission of two clients, I want to share two different Christmas stories today. Both stories started with a depressed sigh and with the sentence, “I just want Christmas to be over”.

The first client was a woman in her fifties. She told me, “Christmas is so stressful; it is just work for me!” And then she listed all the things she had to do and the lack of time to do it. When I asked her how Christmas would look if she could have it exactly the way she wanted, she was speechless for a moment. She had no clear idea. She started saying, “Well, if I could have what I wanted, I wouldn’t have my whole family over and cook for everybody on the 25th, and I wouldn’t go to my in-laws from the 26th to 28th, and I wouldn’t buy so many gifts and… but that’s not possible because everybody is counting on me to do this! If I don’t do it nobody else will!”

So this was clearly a case of negotiating needs. In order to do that, this wonderful giving woman first of all needed to believe that her own needs matter. We needed to teach her subconscious mind more supportive beliefs about herself and her needs, especially in comparison to other people’s needs. She also decided to take an honest look and ask herself what energies she had over-identified with and which opposite energies she had disowned. Her perfectionist, pleaser and care-taker parts were strong personality parts for her. She liked to give to others but because her opposite energies were underdeveloped, she ended up feeling resentful, unappreciated and completely overwhelmed. She needed some more separation from her perfectionist, pleaser and care-taker and had to embrace her own inner child which wanted to have play time and relaxing time over the holidays.

She came for three sessions at the end of last year. I just heard from her a few days ago. She is creating a completely different holiday experience for herself this year. She negotiated that they would only travel up North to stay with the in-laws every other year and that everybody in her family would help with Christmas dinner at her house. “I had to let go of my need to have things ‘just so’, but it was worth it! I actually have found time this year to start cross stitching again; I always used to love needle work. And instead of giving gifts to everybody in the family, we are only doing cards for the adults. All I need to worry about is my grandchildren and it’s fun to shop for them. I am actually enjoying this time of the year! It is wonderful!”

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The second client is a man in his late thirties. When asked why he wants Christmas to be over, he said, “I don’t know. It is just depressing. Just thinking of Christmas shopping makes me break out in a cold sweat; in January we are always in debt because of all the December expenses.” When asked how he envisions a Christmas that meets his needs he replied, “I have no idea! Christmas was always a time I dreaded, going back to the year when my grandpa Miller died” and his eyes filled with tears. He quickly wanted to push that sadness down again but I asked him to sit with it and feel it. It turned out that as a child a few years in a row, traumatic events happened around Christmas: somebody died or moved away or an accident of sorts happened.

Subconsciously, this man still expected the worst to happen at this time of the year. His work was to joyfully release past Christmas experiences and to expect the best Christmas now and in the future. He also chose to change beliefs about being a horrible gift giver and about having to spend a lot of money for Christmas. His son now has a chance to experience a different holiday, one where there are less expensive gifts under the tree but where everybody sits together playing board games and laughing. It’s a Christmas where this dad might finally feel comfortable sharing about his childhood and what his Grandpa Miller was like, a different and special holiday memory for his son.

Wishing you a holiday

If you enjoy my posts, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

Angelika

Belief Change Coaching

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca