Journey Into Wholeness
The holiday season can be stressful for everyone, especially for those who are grieving. Holidays come with so much expectations, and you’re supposed to be joyous, grateful, and celebratory. The popular Christmas song says it is “the most wonderful time of the year,” but is it the case for everyone?
If your loved one is very ill, you may have no energy to plan for the holiday or struggle to “celebrate” under the circumstances. You’re experiencing what’s called anticipatory grief, a common and normal reaction when facing an impending death of a loved one. For you the holiday season can be overwhelming.
Similarly, if you’ve lost your loved one sometime this year, the first holiday without him or her can be heartbreaking and even scary.
The year my brother died suddenly was one of the most stressful years of my life. And for my parents losing their son was unbearable. But at least we didn’t have to worry about celebrating New Year, the biggest holiday in Japan.
Japanese don’t celebrate New Year after a family member dies. One of the Japanese customs during the holiday is to send nengajo (New Year’s day postcards), but in the year we had death in our family we send a different type of card called mochu hagaki.
Mochu means a mourning period. The purpose of mochu hagaki (mochu postcards) is to let families and friends know that you’re not celebrating New Year because you’re in mourning. In this way people will know, if not already, that your family member died, and that you are not able to participate in the New Year celebrations. This custom takes the pressure to celebrate the holiday off of the bereaved.
Unfortunately in the West there seems to be an expectation for the bereaved to celebrate holidays as usual. In fact they’re expected to get back to “normal” soon after their loved ones die. Once the funeral is over and the cards and flowers have been sent, they’re supposed to go back to their normal lives only to find that nothing is ever going to be normal again.
When I was working at hospice in America, bereaved people often said, “I wish I could go to sleep on the day before Thanksgiving and wake up in January.” Have you ever felt that way before?
The other day I came across an article called “Dealing with Grief during the Holiday.” It’s useful not only for the bereaved but also for someone whose family member or friend is grieving. Here are some tips from the article:
Only do what feels right — don’t feel obligated to do what you don’t want to do.
Accept your feelings — whatever they might be — everyone takes his or her own path in grief and mourning.
Call on your family and friends to ask for support — take your friend to events and create an “escape plan” together in case you need to leave the event early.
Seek a professional help from a therapist and a support group — many hospices have these services available. Check with your local hospice.
Focus on the kids — understand that children may be grieving and needing support as well.
Plan ahead — anticipation may be worse than the actual event. It can be helpful to plan comforting activities in the weeks approaching a holiday so that you have something to look forward to.
Scale back — don’t feel you have to go to every holiday event and decorate the house as you have done in the past. It’s okay to scale back.
Give — giving can be a source of healing during the time of loss.
Acknowledge those who have died — it can be helpful to create a ritual in your loved one’s memory.
Do something different — the holiday will not be the same again. Going to different locations and/or planning new activities during the holiday may help.
Skip it — give yourself a permission to skip the holiday. You may want to plan alternative activities that provide you comfort.
If you’re grieving, what are you doing to get through the holiday? For those of you who have been there before, what worked for you in the past?