Dealing with grief is challenging whatever time of year it is. While grief can sometimes be empowering to some people in the long run, helping them find strength, it is naturally an emotion that comes with a great deal of sadness. It can be particularly difficult to grieve during times of celebration for this reason, particularly when you are sharing your experiences with other people.
With the festive season coming up, during one of the most difficult times in recent memory, many people will have had the loss of a loved one on their minds. This grief may be in the form of a recent loss and/or a funeral thanks to COVID, or even the anniversary of a person’s death from long before.
When the death of someone close to you occurs around any sort of special occasion, it’s easy to resign yourself to the fact that you’ll never be able to enjoy that particular date in quite the same way again. The passage of time and the process of exploring different coping techniques will help transform your approach to these occasions; your loved one’s death will not necessarily always prevent you from connecting with your friends and family, even if it currently feels as though it might.
Honesty is Key
Sometimes, the first step to happiness — or at least acceptance — is admitting that you’re sad. You may feel as though you can get through a festive or celebratory season with a “fake it till you make it” approach, often put on in an effort to please everyone. For most of us, however, not only is this heightening your risk of an emotional burnout somewhere down the line, but you’ll also probably find yourself having a worse experience overall. Whether they are private or shared, allowing yourself to have moments of emotional truth can be incredibly cathartic during this time, even if that means shedding some tears along the way.
For other members of your family or your close friends, honesty can also be useful. It will enable them to have a better understanding of how to approach you, and what you may find triggering. For example, where you may have been expected to shoulder the organising of someone’s birthday party, someone else in the family may volunteer to share the burden or take it on themselves.
It is important to note that people experience guilt in many different ways. Some people may find a happy occasion unbearable during a time of grief; some may find it a welcome distraction and extremely therapeutic. Letting your loved ones know that you are okay can be just as important as letting them know you’re not. his helps prevent unnecessary tip-toeing around uncomfortable subjects that you would find it more helpful to discuss openly. A disclosive approach to navigating your tender headspace amongst family and friends also avoids the misunderstandings that can sometimes occur when others may think that they are expected to tone down their happiness or excitement for your benefit.
Honesty therefore benefits not only you, but those around you. It may not be easy to admit how we feel (or even fully comprehend it at times) but speaking up promptly can save us a lot of unnecessary stress and guilt in the long run.
Make Your Boundaries Clear
Figuring out how you feel during a time of both grief and happiness may not be easy, but it can help you to start establishing your boundaries, both negotiable and nonnegotiable. Boundaries are, of course, important when you’re grieving, regardless of the time of year. And when everyone around you is happy during a time when you may be decidedly upset, this can turn a situation into something very ugly if your boundaries are not discerned or drawn up in the right way.
Boundaries can either be personal, or relate to how you interact with the other people in your life. Personal boundaries may include giving yourself helpful limits, such as not taking on extra responsibilities like hosting a Christmas Party, or they could be as small as asking yourself to stay in during Valentine’s Day, rather than going out for a meal if you find it too upsetting.
If you need to change plans or do things differently than you did last year, try to remember that your feelings are valid; there is no need to feel like an inconvenience. It is possible that some people may try to convince you to participate in things you don’t feel comfortable with, in the spirit of “knowing what’s best” for you. While their intentions may be good, you do not have an obligation to please everyone during a time of hardship, and it’s alright if looking after yourself means missing out on family activities or gatherings.
But of course, it is important to know which boundaries are flexible and which boundaries you need to assert. For example, you may not feel up to celebrating someone’s birthday by attending their birthday party, but you could consider whether you would find other ways of marking the occasion that are more comfortable for you, such as taking them out for an intimate meal.
Invite Your Loved One to the Party
In this part of the world, death is so often characterised by misery, sadness and an emphasis on what we have lost, but that’s not necessarily the case all over the world. In Mexico, for example, an entire festival (Dios de las Muertos) is held in honour of those that have passed on. Rather than spending the time in a state of sadness or mourning, the event encourages the spirits of ancestors and deceased family members to join those that are still living; those left behind celebrate the day with an emphasis upon remembering, rather than grieving.
Of course, no one is suggesting that you should necessarily host a joyous party in honour of your loved one, especially if you are still in the early stages of grief. However, some people find that invoking their loved ones who have passed on in times of celebration can help to rekindle happy memories, reminding us to remember them while our own lives continue to unfold. This is a heartwarming means of providing our departed with a small sense of immortality.
During family gatherings or parties, this may be done by bringing up something your loved one used to do that would make you laugh or even offering a toast for them at the dinner table. Some people even find talking about their loved one in the present tense, rather than the past, extremely helpful in connecting with them on some emotional or spiritual level as though they were still present amongst your friends and family.
Naturally, this sort of approach may take time and in the immediate aftermath of someone’s passing, reminiscing or talking about them may just seem too painful. But in the long run it may be a very useful way of managing your grief when annual events occur. Rather than repressing the memory of your loss, you can reintroduce your loved one into your life in a different way.
Create New Traditions
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how hard you try to think of the good times, losing someone may make it too painful to continue with the traditions you’ve held onto for years. The wonderful thing about traditions, however, is that they be adapted. Especially when the established ones are causing you unnecessary pain, it may be time to explore doing things differently.
If you find a particular Christmas song too triggering, for instance, then choose another one to fill your living room with the festive spirit on Christmas morning. If cooking a particular dish brings back painful memories of your loved one, then take this opportunity to discover your new favourite food. There are no rules when it comes to celebrating, or indeed grieving, and so any process that you find helps you enjoy yourself as you move through a tough time is the right one.
Devising new traditions not only allows you to create happier memories in the place of ones that may be tinged with sadness, but the immersion in the present moment that this engenders can also help to take your mind off any stress or sadness you may be feeling.
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