When one thinks of XMAS stockings one usually thinks of little trinkets or pick me ups stuffed and left for friends or family members. Today, though, I want to talk about other stocking stuffers. Grief, Loneliness, Sadness and even Jealousy. You see, these feelings often accompany those who have experienced great loss over the previous year. Loss can occur in many forms - a death of a loved one, a divorce, a child who has left home and cannot make it back for the holidays, significant illness or even just a situation that you wish you could change but seems destined to take over your being this festive season.
The holidays are often a time for celebration. But for some, it doesn't seem like such a happy season at all. If you are one of many experiencing a new era of firsts as a result of unexpected or difficult loss, I have some advice for you. Remember, first, that grief is not an act, it is a process. And as a process, know that there will be some days that are better than others. There is a saying that time heals all wounds. From experience, I think it would be more apt to say that time dulls the ache.
First, take time for yourself. It is ok not to partake in activities that you have always done or been responsible for. That Christmas Bazaar that you have prepared for? Ok to skip it. Christmas cookies for the staff or the dreaded holiday parties that feel over the top? Check them off your to-do list.
Find a circle of support that will be there when you need them without a lot of explanation. We tend to feel like we can do everything ourselves. However, humankind was built to support one another. We need companionship. People just need to be told specifically HOW to help. Need someone to take the kids or just a moment to yourself to breathe or give into the grief? Call on your circle. Need dinner in a pinch? Call on your circle. Need a listening ear? Call on your circle. That being said, it is still the holiday season. Don't feel guilty for wanting to treat yourself to a special mani/pedi or dinner with friends. You may feel jealous that others holiday season appears to be more joyous than your own, or that they have a loved one to celebrate with. You may think, "if only...": and that's ok. But remember that everyone is going through something, and you may never know what his or her unspoken burdens are. Smile and think kindly. Random acts of kindness will build not only others but yourself too.
Start a new tradition. If you have gone through a divorce, start a new tradition. For example, if you always celebrated the holidays on X-MAS Eve, try celebrating on X-MAS day. Make a new recipe with your kids or try something different like going to the movies to pass the time. If you are missing a family member due to a death, try a twist on the tradition, such as making their favorite pumpkin pie and share funny or hopeful stories about your loved one to keep their spirit alive. Making a memory quilt or using their special tablecloth may also make it feel like they are there with you. Adopting X-MAS angels, serving at a nursing home or hospital can help cheer up those folks while giving you a necessary purpose and a respite from your own grief.
Be careful of over indulging in things like over eating or drinking too much alcohol. Habits like these, although seeming to numb the pain in the moment, will only lead to more problems later on. Try exercise instead. The endomorphins released will help you feel and look better too. Remember YOU matter. YOU are IMPORTANT to someone.
And don't forget to make a New Year's Resolution to seek mental health support. Counseling and coaching can provide new perspective and help make the new year more manageable for all of you.