Grieving and Surviving the Holidays

Grieving and Surviving the Holidays

Grieving Surviving Holidays

The holidays are right around the corner, and usually that’s a time of joy, expectation, and
anticipation of spending time with our family and our friends. But for some, the thought of
celebrating anything this year brings great pain. Maybe you’re one of those people. Maybe life
has changed for you in ways that you never wanted, or never expected. Maybe you’re grieving,
and are dreading the coming months. Maybe you just wish that we could jump past
Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day, or that people would just leave you
alone during the holidays this year. Maybe you’re reading this because it’s just what you need.

It has been said that grief is the price of love. The hard truth is that none of us get to go through
life without being touched by grief. In the Bible, Isaiah describes the Messiah as “a man of
sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3). While that may feel helpful when we’re doing
well, it often doesn’t feel very helpful when we’re in the grip of grief. Nothing seems to help.

We typically think of grief as what happens when a loved one dies. That is absolutely true, but
we can also experience grief from other sources, too. Other things that can cause grief are a
divorce, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, a difficult health diagnosis, or the loss of a
beloved pet. It can even be an outwardly positive event that can cause a more hidden grief, like

a move, retirement, or becoming an empty nester. Whatever it is that is causing your grief,
know that your feelings are real and they are valid.

We often want a road map to help us understand what to expect, and what we go through while
grieving. It’s important to know that grief is not a neat and tidy experience. There is no time
table, and you may bounce around through different stages on your way through the
experience. Also, contrary to what we may wish, grieving never ends—it just becomes
something that we eventually get used to and live with. We never stop missing those whom we
have loved.

The Stages of Grief
So what does grieving look like? The most well-known model developed by Dr. Elizabeth
Kubler-Ross describes 5 stages of grief, and includes the following:

● Denial—This is when we are trying to process the loss. We often suppress our feelings, and
are just trying to make sense of what has happened. ex. “This can’t be real. I’ll wake up and
it will be a bad dream.”

Anger—This is an emotion that hides more difficult emotions to deal with, like pain or
sadness, and is often aimed at an inappropriate source. We may find ourselves exceedingly
angry at the person who died or left, at God, or even at inanimate objects. ex. “How could
God let this happen? It’s not fair!”

Bargaining—During this stage, we try to regain some sense of control in our life. Even
though it may be irrational, we think of a lot of “what if” or “if only” scenarios. Sometimes we
even try to “make a deal with God.” ex. “God, if you will fix this, I will open an orphanage in
China,” or “If I had/hadn’t done _____, then it wouldn’t have happened.”

Depression—In the earlier stages of grief, we may find that we are running from our
emotions. In depression, we may become overwhelmed by our emotions. We may isolate
ourselves, have trouble thinking clearly, eat or sleep too much, and cry until we feel like we
have no tears left. ex. “I don’t know how to go on from here.”

Acceptance—This doesn’t mean that you are happy, or that you’re “okay” now. A better way
to describe it might be to say that you have come to grips with the loss, and have more good
days than bad ones. Although you still miss the way that life was before, you see a way
forward.

So what do we do when the holidays come, and we’re grieving? Remember that all of the firsts
will be the hardest: the first Thanksgiving without Grandma’s special dish, the first Christmas
without their special touches, the first birthday or anniversary spent alone. Acknowledge that it’s
hard, and even if it doesn’t feel like it today, know that it will be better in time.

First, be honest about what you’re feeling. You may feel it’s important to pretend to be okay or
happy for others that you care about, but that only makes the pain and loneliness feel more
pronounced. Acknowledge it, and allow yourself to feel the grief. Grief is experiencing our
internal feelings. Mourning is the external expression of that grief.

When we’re grieving the loss of a loved one, some ways that you can externalize your grief are:
● Donate money or time to something that your loved one cared about.
● Say a prayer for your loved one before a holiday meal.
● Share a funny or poignant story about your loved one.
● Plant a tree or flower in honor of your loved one.
● Write your loved one a letter.
● Do something kind for someone else without taking credit for it.

Be kind to yourself. No one else knows what is best for you, even if they think they do. You
have to do what feels right for you this year. If you want to go to the family event, then go, but
give yourself permission to leave early, if you need to. If you want to stay home or go to a
movie, do that instead. It’s okay to take a year off, if that’s what you need. Next year will be
different, and you will be more ready to find a new way to address the holiday season.

Through your grief, remember that God is there with you, even if you don’t feel Him. If you need
to talk to someone who won’t judge you, the counselors at New Vision Counseling would be
honored to walk through this grief with you. Please give us a call today at (405) 921-7776.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are
with me.” Psalm 23:4

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may
not grieve as others who have no hope.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for good and not for evil, to give
you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

By: Kathy Gissler, MA, LPC

*Kathy Gissler is a therapist at New Vision Counseling & Consulting. A place where we help
you discover what better looks like for you and equip you with the tools to create it.