The answer to this question seems obvious. Whether we lost a loved one long ago, or just this year, we understand that grief has set in and it is part of us now. Even if we don’t feel acceptant or open, anyone who has lost a loved one has felt some degree of grief when these holidays descend upon us each year. So this is a legit question: How will we relate to our grief?
The easy answer to me, in my humble experience of losing two children is not “how” I will relate to my grief, just that I will “run from it” altogether. Fortunately, there are so many avenues that serve as escape routes that I might be able to pull off just ignoring it altogether.
The fast pace of holiday preparations, travel, spending and consuming can keep us numb for days even the whole season if we so choose. Whether we leave our bodies through overeating, spiked eggnog or busying ourselves in whatever ways we can find, is unimportant. The material facet is that we outrun our grief so we can enjoy ourselves, right?
I tried that. In fact, I did that for a few dozen holiday seasons. I had lots of strategies to run, here are a few: Go to bed late. Go to bed early. Don’t go to bed. Don’t get out of bed. Have a lot of company. Have no company. Stay home. Go out. Binge eat. Fast. Spend. Save. Take an early walk. Or stay in my pajamas until Black Friday comes. (Not my favorite term btw, also shopping doesn’t do it for me so I stay home in protest.). Prepare large feasts. Eat take out. Watch movies. Watch the ceiling. Watch the insides of my eyelids.
Those are just a few of the ways I have attempted to outrun my grief, not only around this time of year, but as much as I hate to admit it, all year round. And I what I know for sure is that it’s a losing proposition. If you have lost someone you love, you get it. You may also have attempted to outrun your grief with these strategies, and probably have many more of your own. And they are likely all insufficient, just like mine were. And if instead they are still working for you, enjoy that while you can.
But for the rest of us, maybe we can try something new this year? If you are so inspired and can conjure up the courage maybe you want to join me?
Instead of burying my head in the proverbial sand for all days between Halloween and my birthday in early January, I have decided to approach my grief as if it is an honored guest. I have chosen to invite it along wherever I go. I bring other emotional components also, like gratitude, Joy and generosity. But when I check the list of everything I need to participate in the holiday season, I am committed to making sure my grief is present and accounted for.
I have written about the audacious goal of learning to wear our scars as medals. We work so hard to cover our scars, even though they are as much a part of us as everything else. We shun them, put make-up over them, or deny they exist. We imbibe, consume, and holiday-it-up with all of the parts of us, BUT our grief. Then, we wonder why the scars pop out, or come out screaming at Christmas Eve church service, in the form of unbridled tears, apparent suffocation and full on panic.
The invitation this holiday season is to join me in hacking those sneak attacks by asking ourselves a few questions, such as:
- What would happen if I cradled my grief instead of denying it?
- Could I feel less trapped if I learned to revere my grief instead of hating it?
- How can I open to the fullness of my emotional experience, not just the “good” stuff?
- Is there a way to make space for my grief instead of feeling like it is a disease I can’t heal from?
These questions are petrifying. I am a pretty seasoned griever and just typing them on my iPad gives me anxiety. So if grief is new to you, and this sounds and feels ridiculous, please discontinue reading here. I understand that it can be too much to bear.
But sitting on a pile of banished grief and pretending I am on solid ground is also too much to bear. I have learned this at different times in my life. One of them, just last year had me in such a low place I didn’t know if I would ever find my way out from under it. That pile of grief is not absent just because I’m not “into” it. It’s still part of me. A permanent, tragic and ecstatic part of me that grew incapable of being ignored. My recent profoundly challenging grief experience once again reminded me that it can be the whole of my life, or just a part, depending on how much respect and attention I give it.
If you know about grief, I am sending my sincere compassion. And I am also sending what I hope to be a potential gift, and that is the gift of liberation. This is a process, not an act, but learning to integrate our grief is the only path I know to not living in fear all of the time. And no matter how long it takes to cultivate a different response, what I know for sure is that ignoring, denying, numbing, and even experiencing physical illness are all ways to avoid our grief. Some even work for a while, but they can’t outpace profound grief.
So what else can we do? Here are a few ways to operationalize this concept of allowing (and even eventually inviting) our grief to breathe with us instead of trying to suffocate it:
- Choose a particular clothing item, piece of jewelry or even a small stone that you will dedicate to the “inclusion” efforts toward your grief this season. It can be an understanding between you and your grief only, that when you see it, wear it or touch it you are saying hello.
- Schedule a weekly walk or hike that you routinely dedicate to your grief. Maybe you walk every day, if so just pick one every week and invite your grief to join you. Perhaps listen to something inspirational or a beautiful piece of music, one that even reminds you of your lost loved one. You don’t have to say or do anything else. Just invite it along for the walk.
- If there is a particular beverage or entrée that reminds you of your loved one, choose a time to shop for the ingredients, prepare and combine them, and then sit in full presence as you eat or drink this item. Delicious aromas, just like old songs, can take us closer to that person no matter how much time has passed.
- Candles, candles and more candles: Be safe. But candle light is a calming and steady way to invite your grief to join you in any room, at any time of day, for any occasion. There is a tenderness that dances from the flames. Each movement of the light is like the constant coming and going of time. It is beautiful and also feels like an energetic representation of the parts of me I don’t usually want to spend time with.
- GX2: Generosity and Gratitude are never-fail, grief welcome-wagons. There are all kinds of magical miracles that happen in our undervalued brains when we are giving, and when we are noticing (appreciating) someone or something. There are endless ways to try this out (use the search key on the blog page to locate more on these.)
In summary, our grief is the result of our loss, not its origin. Our grief didn’t ask to be here. It was born when someone died. It’s part of us, and also intimately connects us to our deceased loved one. Rejecting it is like rejecting ourselves. Which is why it feels so bad.
Whatever you may be facing this holiday season, you are not alone. Unfortunately tragedy happens every moment. That means there are a lot of us trying to learn how to live in world absent our children, parents, friends, spouses, co-workers. So we are all in good company. Please share any strategies you have found effective, or not around this time of year in the comments!