Monday, December 14, 2009

Grief at Christmas -- how to cope with the pain?

As Christmas approaches many of us find it difficult to deal with our grief. (I am writing this a mother who had a 20-year old son die, a husband die at 35, and about four years experience as a bereavement counsellor some years ago)

Grief is a necessity and privilege, it stems from giving and receiving love. Just as love doesn't end with death, neither does grief end with the funeral: sometimes our grief is more painful.

There are no rules or simple ways to take away the pain. Sights, sounds and smells bring back pleasure as well as pain and it's important to find people who will support you, and most importantly, allow you to be yourself.

So, how will you cope with Christmas? Will you make a plan or take it as it comes? Most people find advance planning helpful; just remember that plans are not carved in stone and they can be changed.

By the time the first Christmas arrives most of us have realised that ignoring grief does not make it go away. Conversely, talking about our pain does not make grief worse, although it may feel that way.

Often friends stop talking about the deceased person, (or you may with people who don't know the person you are grieving). They assume that when you cry they have made you feel bad - as if their talk could increase our pain – and it's difficult to explain to them that crying is beneficial. I believe it is because they feel uncomfortable with tears rather than their concern for us that stops them talking about our loved one. And we oblige by not upsetting people … funny how the griever often supports the friend – weird but true.

Friends and family may encourage you to keep active, or to "get on with life", "you have to let her go' and other non-helpful advice such as "he wouldn't want to you keep crying". I am sure you have heard these and other such homilies.

Keeping busy will not heal grief, in fact, experience shows it often increases our stress and merely postpones or denies the need to talk, feel, and cry. Time heals grief 'they' say: not true. It's what we do with the time that does the healing – ask anyone who has used medication to dull the pain: when the pills are stopped our pain is still there, just waiting for us to deal with it.

• Remember you are not alone. Find someone to talk to.


• Use your loved ones name. Talk about them, good times, bad times, and other holiday seasons.

• Eliminate as much stress as possible. Plan ahead, keep it simple. Ignore others' expectations.

• Involve your children in your discussions and planning - it will help their grief too.

• Do what’s right for you & your family, don't be pressured into doing things that aren't OK

• Use whatever form of spirituality is meaningful to you.

• Pace yourself physically and emotionally, be tolerant of your limitations...grief is tiring!

• Christmas will come no matter how much you may not want it. You will survive.

• Remember the worst has already happened!

• Take one day at a time, one hour at a time.

• Anticipation of the event is always worse than the actual day.



HEALING ACTIONS to consider

• Buy a special gift and donate it to a charity in your loved ones name

• Burn a candle over Christmas to symbolise their presence in your thoughts.

• Write a letter to them in your journal. Describe how Christmas is without them.

• Change holiday habits: Christmas breakfast instead of dinner; restaurant instead of home.

• Keep all your holiday habits. For some, the familiar is reassuring.

• Expressing your feelings honestly always helps.

• Volunteer to work at the local mission, old folks home.

• Have a special toast to absent loved ones before the main meal.

• Tie a yellow remembrance ribbon on the Christmas tree - your own tree, or the town one.

• Set aside an evening to look at photos and talk about him or her.

• Make a memory book. Children find this really helpful too.

• Make a list of things you found helpful, share it with others. Keep for next year!
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