Tangled In Grief & Garland: Coping with Loss Through the Holidays

For so many, the holidays are “the most wonderful time of the year.” Maybe you’ve felt that way in the past, maybe you’re silently longing to feel that way again.  We experience loss in so many ways throughout our lifetime.  Family members pass away and the family dynamic shifts.  Parents divorce and the spouses and the children are left to navigate and construct a new family.  Divorce itself feels equivalent to death in many ways.  A diagnosis of a chronic or terminal illness can initiate stages of grieving.  Addiction and abuse can create a sense of loss so dark that you’re unable to see light, much less joy.  I’ve personally experienced divorce, death, and addiction at a very personal level and loved others through terminal diagnoses.  I am not a licensed counselor, only someone who has walked a painful path and feels I have constructive options to share while you wade through the darkness of grief.

Grace to Grieve

My friend, I wish I could take all restraints and preconceptions off your mind and spirit to allow you the freedom to embrace your grief for all that it is, as you need.  Sometimes, I’ve felt to embrace it all would be too overwhelming, and I would fall apart at the seams.  To be honest, I’ve felt that way in the past month.  I do understand that feeling, all too well.  What I want you to know, deep in your heart, is that every emotion you feel is okay and not permanent.

In my experience, when you try to deny what you’re feeling, it only rages to the surface in different ways.  For some it could be rage, some sadness, some anxiety, some even experience physical hindrances because the emotional hurt they’ve suppressed manifests within their body as an ailment.

Why do we, as a society, feel we need to hide and stifle?  We are given our emotions for a reason and by design.  We are created to process through them to regain healing.  No matter what form the loss takes, no one wants you destroying yourself internally to mask the genuine pain you are feeling.  There is a quote that I cannot find, it was either written by Dr. Robert Schuler or Zig Ziglar I believe.  But I’ve carried it with me and it’s helped me cope through so much.  “You can throw yourself a pity party, just don’t live there.”  Allow yourself the moment and the time to embrace the sadness, the anger, whatever form it takes, then allow yourself the freedom to continue moving forward.

Perhaps, you’re not the ‘cry it out’ kind of person.  Maybe that’s just not how you process.  You feel the loss and the hurt as sincerely as anyone would, but it just doesn’t come out in an emotional way.  Maybe you’re a little concerned that something isn’t quite right in how you’re processing because the emotions don’t strike you that way.  Hear me, truly hear me, it is okay if that is how you process.  None of us are designed the same, and none of us are given a user’s guide on how to navigate this life and our personalities.

The worth of your grief isn’t determined by your ability to express or suppress your emotions.

All that I challenge you to do is to grieve without restraint.  When the moment comes, sometimes it’s a gentle mist, other times it’s a raging tidal wave.  There is a true ebb and flow of emotion that is completely normal.  Embrace it.  It is part of who you are and it is part of your mind and soul working to help you feel whole again.  You don’t have to be ‘strong’ or ‘brave.’ You are not weak.  You are human.  Those who love you will allow you grace to grieve, allow it for yourself.  Be patient, be gentle, love your heart.

Transforming Tradition

Traditions can be a blessing or a curse as you’re grieving and as you’re forging a new path without the promise of tomorrow with someone you have loved.  For me personally, tradition centers me at the core.  Tradition is comfort and it’s where I find my strength.  Many traditions that I shared with my father, whom we lost six years ago, I have instilled in my daughters.  Sometimes, they initiate the activity before it’s even come to mind for me.  It’s where we regroup, and remember, and develop new memories to build on.

After my divorce, it was necessary for the girls and I to start creating new traditions that the three of us shared.  We needed to have moments to look forward to, moments that bonded us together as a family.

Tradition does not have to symbolize what is lost.  We cannot change the past.  It’s over.  It’s gone.  There is absolutely nothing we can achieve by regret.  The only thing we can do is accept responsibility for the things we can change about what led us to our place in life now and strive to make healthier choices.  If you’ve lost someone, please know in your heart that they want you to move forward in life pursuing genuine joy, love, and peace.  Even if that wasn’t always the message they sent you in their time on earth, I fully believe that is what they want for you now.  I promise you, with every ounce of my heart, that is what I want for you.  That is what I believe God wants for you.

We do not honor the person we love by refusing to enjoy life after what we shared with them is lost.  There are still relationships that can be taken deeper, joyful memories that can be made.  It is not a disservice to our past loved ones, or our lost relationship, to enjoy life now.  I know that sometimes the prospect of being vulnerable to love again, or more, is daunting because the last time hurt so much.  But there is refuge in developing new bonds.

Refuge and Renewal

Healing can come in so many forms and from such unexpected sources.  There is a lot of independent, internal work that needs to be done, but you don’t have to do it alone.  Ever.  There are support groups, which seem daunting, but can truly help you to process.  There are resources available that can help.  I strongly recommend counseling.  The girls and I met with a counselor after the divorce and the loss of their grandfather.  I’ll be honest, none of us liked counseling.  It’s tough.  It’s sticky and vulnerable and there’s a lot of raw emotion.  That being said, having a non-partial sounding board who isn’t consumed by the pain the family is deconstructing, is a gift.  Counseling supports healthy thought processes and applications that can transform a volatile season into one strongly rooted in understanding.

I realize that not all of my readers share my faith, and that is okay.  I personally believe that true healing begins soul deep through prayer and meditation.  I have found so much strength through scripture.  I strive to lay my misperceptions about what church has told me God is in the past and read the scriptures as though it is loving guidance written from a heavenly Father who wants only to see me living a life enriched by love, joy, and wholeness.  Sometimes that is a ‘warm fuzzy’ message, other times, it’s a strong correction to self-destructive behavior.  When I read it knowing that I am loved, not because I’ve earned it, just because I am, it has transformative power.  There are days where that has been the only thing that has ‘kept my head above water.’

What I hope you take away from this blog post, is freedom.  Freedom to live, freedom to cope, freedom to love again and more.  I’m praying for your heart to heal.  I hope you are able to find joy in this season and allow yourself grace in the moments that do not feel joyful.  It takes time.

2 thoughts on “Tangled In Grief & Garland: Coping with Loss Through the Holidays”

  1. Thank you for your honesty, vulnerability, and permission to be human. I loved the line: “no one wants you destroying yourself internally to mask the genuine pain you are feeling.” So well-said!
    P.S. I’m a psychologist and you’re right, therapy is tough!

    1. Desiree, thank you so much for your feedback. It really does mean even more knowing that you’re trained to help people through these things. That was one of my favorite lines too 🙂

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