By Mary L. Robinson, Imagine Founder
For years after my father died my mom carried on at the holidays as if nothing had changed. Her intentions were good — to keep things the same and not bring any sadness into the room. But things weren’t the same, there was a person missing. My dad. The person who sawed off the bottom of the tree to fit into the tree stand. And who wired the tree with lights and watched as we all decorated it with the familiar ornaments and sipped hot chocolate. Except now I was the one trying to saw off the bottom of the tree and get the lights on just so the way my mom liked. His missing presence lodged itself like a lump in my throat and sometimes it was all I could do not to cry. Not to cry.
At Imagine we talk about the importance of having all of your feelings. Not just the ones that make other people comfortable. And not just to have them, but to express them whether by talking, writing, drawing, pounding on a pillow or kicking a ball. When we express our feelings it helps discharge some of the kinetic energy in our bodies that causes those lumps in our throat or makes us lash out at the ones we love. Putting words on our feelings helps us connect them to our thoughts which in turn helps us cope.
If you are grieving this holiday season whether because someone died or you had any type of loss, such as a relationship ending, the loss of a job or dream, a pet dying, an unexpected diagnosis, here are some tips to consider for getting through the next few weeks.
- Just say no. Permission to say no I can’t cook that, I can’t go there, I can’t decorate, bake cookies, buy presents. Whatever is on your “I should” list give yourself permission to say no. Once you’ve decided what you can or can’t do share these decisions with your friends and family. Decide together with your children what traditions to keep, what to let go of, or what new traditions to make.
- If you are grieving a death find ways to remember the person who died. Share memories, tell stories, play their favorite music or make their favorite recipe. Have a seat for them at the table with a plate decorated just for them by the kids. Or by you. Write a card or letter to the person who died or write memories on strips of paper and use them to make a chain to decorate the tree. Buy a gift the person would have liked and donate it to charity. (For more ideas see the bottom of this article for recommendations on ways to remember someone who had died.)
- Give yourself permission to rest. The holidays can be exhausting under the best of circumstances but never more so than when you are grieving. Grief takes a physical toll on our bodies and brains, not just an emotional toll. So stop, sit, close your eyes, and breathe.
- Involve your children in discussions about what they would like to do this year. Give them choices such as should we make dad’s favorite desert or something new? Should we cut down the tree at the same farm or get an artificial tree like Aunt Jane? You may decide to keep everything the same or change some things and not others. Decide together as a family and compromise when needed.
- Don’t go. Just because you were invited and you always go doesn’t mean you have to this year. Or go but set boundaries for how long you are going to stay. Some people want to be around others and some people prefer a quieter time with less people. You get to decide.
- Make a plan and check it twice. We suggest taking the time to sit down with your children and make a plan. Let everyone know their thoughts and opinions matter. Because grief is so unique to each individual you may all have different needs and ideas. Ask clarifying questions and encourage family members to find solutions that work for everyone. Consider too what the holiday meant for the person who died and what does each family member need for support. Some people need hugs and listening and others need to keep busy and active.
During the holidays it is especially important to reach out for support. Who are the people who really know how to listen? Who will let you have all your feelings? Surround yourself as much as possible with people like this.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or in crisis, call Caring Contact at 908-232-2880 or text “heart” to 741-741.
If you are between the ages of 10 and 24, live in New Jersey, and need to talk about an issue or problem that you are facing, call 888-222-2228 anytime or text 888-222-2228.
If you are feeling suicidal, call 800-273-8255.
Remember, just say no. No is a complete sentence. You can say “no thank you” if you feel more words are needed. Take care of yourself this holiday season. We are here if you need us.