Good Grief: Holiday Edition

Happy happy happy! Joyful joyful joyful! ‘Tis the season to ……Be depressed out of your mind because it seems as though the whole planet is spending their time with magical, loving, warm families engaged in holiday traditions, while you are carrying an oppressive lump of sadness and grief. It feels sometimes as though those of us who are hurting are invisible, drowning in a sea of happy holiday messages and social media posts. It can feel as though everyone’s family is intact, everyone has their dream life, everyone is having a happy holiday… except for you. Perhaps a loved one has been ripped from you by death. Perhaps the life you once had has been shattered by a layoff, a divorce, a financial crisis, a devastating relationship disappointment, or a major move. Or perhaps you have a family and a job and a roof over your head, but your family relationships are toxic and crazy and you can’t be around those people without feeling like you are losing a piece of your soul and half of your mind. You might be having a faith crisis, or have grown out of the faith of your childhood and the rituals you once loved now seem empty and meaningless. Please allow me to start with this: You are not alone. Although your loss is indeed unique to you, you are not alone in it. All of those shiny happy people on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.? Some of them spent the hours before that picture or post fighting horribly with those very people. Some of them are going through the motions, hiding their sense of despair because those happy happy warm warm families, or once meaningful faith environments are not actually safe places to “come as you are.” Some of those people may be going to therapy for weeks after that gathering to try and recover. Unfortunately, some of those very smiling faces you see will be taken away by death or illness within the coming year. Never compare your real life to the 2-dimensional lives portrayed on social media. Those images are flat representations of the best slices of people’s lives. Trust me ~ I see them in my office all the time. They are real people who have real struggles and real pain, just like you. They just don’t have the wherewithal to show it at that time. If they aren’t in a difficult situation now, they will be eventually. None of us get out of this life thing without some serious pain. “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” (Anne Lamott) Another important thing to hold onto as you push through the end of the year, is that much of the pain we feel while we’re grieving during the holidays is twined up in our expectations. We expect to be happy during the holidays. We expect to feel loved and connected to others. We expect people to remember that we’re grieving and to give us some emotional room. We are expected to show up at certain events and to do certain rituals… Those expectations will turn into resentments in half of a heartbeat when we’re grieving. Be gentle with yourself. Think outside of the box. Give yourself permission to say no to invitations, or to give tentative yesses, deciding if you are a yes or a no based on how you feel that particular moment when it’s time to go. Will you get pushback from people who have an agenda for you? Yes. Do you have to care. No. Not even if the person with the expectation is your 96 year old grandmother, who just wouldn’t understand. People who truly love you, will at least try to understand. You are more important to them then the particular activity at hand. You do not need to be around people who are not able or willing to understand your needs. Ask yourself what you really want and need. Get creative. Think the unthinkable and work backward from there, discerning what is and is not healthy for you, what will and will not yield what you need, and what has consequences that are worth experiencing to get what you need. Make conscious decisions about how you will take care of yourself. The mama in me simply needs to say it: You need to eat. You cannot think well without proper blood sugar levels. Please eat something, whether or not you feel like it. You could choose to binge on chocolate and sweets, but chances are the temporary euphoria will dissolve into physical and emotional malaise. Eat something healthy, or in healthy proportions instead. You cannot actually fill the pain with food for more than a few moments, so use the opportunity to sit with your pain and figure out what healthy things you can do to tend to it. Please apply similar thinking to illegal drugs and alcohol.

They may help you avoid feeling

your pain in the moment, but in the long run, they will likely make things worse.

We do these things – overeating, drugs, alcohol – in an attempt to push away from what seems like unbearable pain and loneliness. While this is understandable, it just isn’t helpful. This is going to sound harsh but, don’t be afraid of pain and loneliness. Pain and loneliness are not fun. At times, they feel unbearable. Pain and loneliness are much like childbirth. (Those of you who have not had this experience, I apologize. Just trust me on this one:) If you fight the pain, it hurts more and impedes your progress. When you breathe into the pain of loneliness, the emotional contractions can push you forward to greater realizations and a new way of looking at life. Journal, cry, sing, play music, create… There is an old jazz adage that goes, “We play da blues so da blues don’t play us.”

Find ways to express your grief, your pain and your loneliness. Then, find ways to share your creation, whether anonymously online, or with others in your life who you think might just understand. Let someone “bear witness” to your pain, even if it’s someone who was a stranger until you shared that piece of your heart. Be open to mystical connections that you never thought would happen. YOU ARE NOT ALONE, even when it feels like it. If you’re feeling stuck in despair, please reach out. Find someone who might be able to hear your pain and not push away. And if you’d like to talk with someone outside of your personal circles, let’s talk together about how I might be able to help. Just click on the Contact Tiffany tab. It’s time to move from surviving to thriving.