Home for the Holidays: Grief and Change
December 20, 2022
Home for the Holidays: Grief and Change
We call it “the holidays.” That time of the year where beautiful and bright decorations can be found throughout your neighborhood and town. An increase in fun gatherings, socializing, and shopping is added to your calendar. Depending on where you live, the weather gets magically chilly. Family and friends visit. Kids are filled with a rush of excitement, anticipating presents and time off school. Cookies and baking take center stage. Classic movies become a priority on the watch list for the month of December. Traditions take place around the globe. For many, it is a season of celebration that elicits a nostalgic joy. Or at least it is supposed to be.
What happens when the traditions we have had forever change? What happens when little kids grow up, when siblings or best friends move away? What happens when the people you always celebrated with pass away? When these inevitable changes take place, the holidays can become a big, intense reminder of what used to be. Sadly, sometimes these months become a season that a lot of people want to avoid or get through quickly. A time of the year that evokes the loss of the familiar, instead of joy.
Feelings of grief intensifying is common during holidays, birthdays, or other celebratory events. Grief can come up as a result of any shift in routine or tradition, whether it be a positive milestone or a negative event. Marriage, divorce, a new job, chronic illnesses, retirement, a breakup, losing a loved one, or having a baby are some examples. Your family unit or social circle, along with familiar and unspoken roles within it, have been reassembled. Now your emotions and brain must acclimate. Sometimes it is easy, while other times it is hard getting used to a new normal. Any change can trigger difficulty in coping. When this shift occurs in life, what do we do then? How do we make it through the holidays? How do we summon back the peace and nostalgia?
I have some suggestions for such a time and experience. First, it is important that we are extra kind and gentle towards ourselves during any adjustment phase in life. Some may go through years of adjusting and change, wondering why they feel so disconnected or zoned out on a holiday. There really is not a timeline for how long it “should” take you to acclimate. For some, it can take several years to get into the groove of something new. Being kind to yourself also involves being aware of the self-judgments that can take place in your head and working on those is essential. You might think, “I should be grateful and happy today, so why do I feel this way?” However, validating that change is difficult and that it can take time to process is essential in healing and working through such hard emotions. In addition, it is important to provide yourself with soothing comforts. Ask yourself, “What do I really need today?” It can be time alone, time with family or a friend who is nearby, moving your body, a nourishing meal, a nap, a day off work, reading, journaling, therapy, or including something in your day that you love and enjoy at this present time.
Navigating through the sea of change also involves finding new traditions. Creating new traditions promotes resiliency, allowing you to pivot while also still celebrating and enjoying the holidays. This can mean making a list of activities you may want to try this holiday season and sharing it with friends or family that you plan to spend time with. You can create new memories through this that elicit joy and the potential for a new tradition. Carrying on old traditions with new people is also an option, if that feels right for you. Cooking a deceased loved one’s favorite dish at a family gathering, in honor of them, is one example.
No matter the holiday you are celebrating, the months of November and December can be a strange, confusing, or ambivalent time for those moving through the jungle of change. Taking time to offer yourself compassion and grace, while looking forward to and experimenting with new traditions and activities, can provide us the space and time to deeply heal and revive the wonder and joy that the end of the year brings.
To your health and healing,