Helping those experiencing loss during the holidays.
For those who celebrate Christmas the week prior includes much anticipation of what is ahead. Usually there are family visits, travel, gift-giving, social events, meals, church gatherings…just to name a few. Then there is the sheer busyness of shopping, wrapping and preparing homes and meals for all that is about to take place. Truly it is a festive and beautiful season for most of us.
However, some individuals have had a kind of loss this past year or know someone who has. Whether it is a loss of a family member, a family tragedy of some kind, a loss of a job, marriage or meaningful relationship or reliving any trauma these things may cause memories that can trigger us to feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety and apathy. I think it is important to realize that holidays like Christmas can be extremely difficult for many people.
It is particularly hard to see Christmas events happening all around when you feel very out of the spirit and unable to have the same enjoyment. Yet for those who are experiencing grief and loss it may be a necessary process particularly if there is a major loss that has changed their Christmas for the first time.
It is important to remember that when we encounter a friend or family member experiencing loss from the past year, we allow them the permission and room to cope with their loss or difficult feelings. So often people in loss get confronted about those feelings which is something that we shouldn’t do. It is not like they are enjoying feeling that way. The most important thing we can do is help them normalize these feelings. I like to use the term “predictable” when someone is struggling over a loss on a holiday. It is the idea that we are walking with them in their journey and that we understand that it is a difficult season. Of course they would have these feelings if like their world has been blown apart and their Christmas is not the same as it was.
It is also helpful to keep them involved with other family members. So even though they aren’t in the best of emotional places they need their family around them. We also can give them permission and understanding if they need to take a break from the gatherings because they feel so fragile and uncertain about what their reactions might be. If they do break down, we can simply help them process their feelings and not try to rescue, explain or rationalize them. This is a part of acceptance of the individual who is in great loss and needs a stable connection.
Another idea is to offer them the opportunity to process their feelings with someone they trust. It may not be appropriate to have them share how they may be feeling with the entire family but certainly a listening ear by a trusted friend, family member or therapist may help them work through some of the difficult emotions. In so doing they may be able to find some level of joy and regulation during the holidays.
It is important to realize that not everyone is ready to enjoy Christmas or any holiday. For many it is a painful and lonely time where those who care need to be sensitive and allow them the time and space to reflect. It is important to remember that everyone needs a relationship and connection that is supportive and understanding. That way everyone can be involved in Christmas even when there is loss and raw emotions. That involvement may be their best Christmas gift.