Dealing With Grief During the Holidays

By Eden Althaus, LCSW, LCC Psychotherapist

Christmas time is here again; the trees are up and the lights are twinkling. Every store you walk into has festive music playing and shades of red and green throughout. It is the most wonderful time of the year, for we are preparing for the birth of our savior.  However, this time of year doesn’t always bring joy to everyone… the decorations, music, parties, and festivities can serve as painful reminders to those who have suffered a loss of a loved one. Seeing the empty chair at the table or remembering an old family tradition that once included this person can be emotionally overwhelming. Here are some ways to help cope throughout the holidays:

Give yourself grace – In 2 Corinthians 12:9 The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Just as God has given us grace, we must shed grace upon ourselves.  Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling, sit with those emotions, and be present and mindful about what is going on within you.  Many times we try to avoid the feelings related to loss because the pain seems overwhelming. However, the use of mindfulness can help facilitate healing and acceptance, being open to those uncomfortable feelings in a non-judgmental way. Ultimately, this will lead us to a place where we can process those emotions safely and come to peace with them.

Surround yourself with love – It can be easy to isolate, to stay home and let the holidays go by without participating. However, the feelings of loss and grief do not go away by avoiding the holiday celebrations.  In fact, by separating yourself from traditions and celebrations, the feelings of loneliness can intensify.   Perhaps you can start some new traditions with family or friends during this holiday season. Do something that is meaningful to you. Whether it is volunteering at a soup kitchen, caroling at a nursing home, or crafting with old friends, make an effort to surround yourself with love and support and avoid isolation.

Reach out and ask for help – It is okay to not be okay. It is okay to feel pain and to ask for help in dealing with your heartbreaking emotions. Loss can be overwhelming, confusing, and downright miserable. You don’t have to go through it alone. Seek counseling or speak to someone who you know and trust.  Ask God for healing, comfort and strength. Seek guidance about where to turn with your despair. Know that LCC is always ready and willing to help.

Permission to feel joy – Lastly, cut yourself some slack and try not to feel guilt when you finally feel that joy sparking again.  There can be great comfort in honoring those we lost by living our lives to the fullest. In the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief model, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are all stages that one may or may not go through when dealing with bereavement. Although this model has been around for a long time, a newer model by Lois Tonkin, called, “Growing around Grief” also sheds light on understanding these difficult emotions. She explains that acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean those sad feelings are gone, but instead suggests that grief becomes part of us and our lives still continue and we grow around it—allowing yourself to feel joy in the mist of our sadness. Tonkin’s model explains that living with loss is not about getting over your loved one, as much as it is finding ways to live a happy and full life that includes your beautiful memories.

As this Christmas season comes and goes, you will make it through and you will become stronger because of it. We at the Lutheran Counseling Center wish you a Merry Christmas and the peace of Christ, which surpasses all understanding. May God bless you and give you hope.

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Eden Althaus, LCSW, is a social worker with the Northport VA Medical Center, directs the Young Adult Ministry at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Garden City and counsels children, teens, couples and adults at LCC’s Dix Hills site. For more information or to set an appointment, please call the Lutheran Counseling Center (www.lccny.org) at 1-800-317-1173.
 

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