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What to do when you're too sad to celebrate Christmas - Part 2


What to do when you're too sad to celebrate Christmas - Part 2

Christa Hesselink


10 Reminders to Help us Cope this Christmas


Yesterday, I shared my own story of why I find this season particularly difficult.  

Here's the first five, of ten reminders, to help us cope well this season.

1. Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with others.

Listen. We're talking about the big stuff of grief and loss here.  Even though it's uncomfortable and everyone, including yourself would rather have it disappear, it's important to let yourself feel it. It's messy and ugly, but it's normal and good, and important - don't stuff those feeling down because their hard and awkward. Be gentle with yourself and give others space too. Aren't we all  just trying to do our best?

2. Waves of grief will pummel you, but you won't drown.

I like to call them "grief-bursts"; those awful and unexpected waves of emotion. I once was unconsolable, crying in a restaurant bathroom- the whole thing took me by surprise. Something triggered me and the wave hit. Everything in me wanted to hold it back because I thought for sure it would drown me and I'd never come back the same.  Do you know what? That wave of grief did overwhelm me. It came AND THEN it went. Remember - the waves will come, but you will survive and come up for air every time.  Find some people around you that can act as "life guards" if you start to feel the current pulling you out and down to places that are beyond you.

3. Make a plan.

The truth is, the anticipation of things is always worse then the actual thing.  The lead up to that day or event that you're dreading is always harder than the moment itself - it's strange like that.  It helps to make a plan so that you can have a bit of control and know what to expect.  What will you do on that day? Do you need people around? Do you need to be alone? Do you need to make a new tradition, or preserve an old one? Do you need to mark a moment to honour your loss or loved one? Whatever you do - make a plan. It'll still be hard but a plan makes it all a bit more bearable.

4. "Those who mourn well, will live well."

This is by far one of the most important things I've ever learned.
Did you know that grief and mourning are different? Grief is the universal feelings associated with loss - sadness, anger, fear, anxiety - and everyone who experiences a loss of any kind has these sorts of feelings. But mourning is different.  Mourning is the outward expression of those grief feelings. It's the effort to "go public" with your grief, give expression to your feelings, and work to reconcile this loss into your life - the effort to create a "new normal".  

The way we mourn changes over time and is different for every person.

We need to find ways to give expression to our grief and loss. They can be large, significant gestures or small, private ones. Whatever it is, we must acknowledge our loss in meaningful ways.

For me, in the early days, the "outward expression" meant a lot of crying, journaling,  and talking it out with trusted friends. Today, there are far less tears but I'm still mourning. I still am bearing witness to my loss, and marking moments so that I can pay attention to my grief and remember.  If I don't, the grief I feel, even after all these years, will work its way into my life like a toxin and manifest itself in some pretty unhelpful ways. 

I want to live well.  And I know that only happens if I mourn well.

5. Do something to remember, honour, and mark moments.

Mourning looks different for everyone at every stage of creating a "new normal." On that first Christmas after my brother died, my family and I flew to Florida to try and forget about the holiday all together. It was all we could do to manage the pain.  It looked like "escape", but it was our way of telling ourselves and the world that Christmas would never be the same. 

Some years it's looked like a special toast at the dinner table, or lighting a candle. Other years it's been quietly reading letters, giving a donation to a charity, getting a tattoo (ya, that was a big one!), telling stories, or planting a tree.  It doesn't matter what it is, as long as it's an expression of the grief you feel.

For me, this Christmas, marking the moment looks like putting up special Christmas tree ornaments. The angel on the top of my tree carries a broken heart in her hands. It's subtle - no one looking at my tree would even know it - but I do. And I have a picture by my kitchen sink; it's of my brother and I as kids sitting in front of the Christmas tree. When I'm messing around in my kitchen, I see that picture and get in touch with the good memories of the past and the ache of missing him. 

It may seem counter-intuitive to intentionally mark moments since they have a way of conjuring up difficult emotions.

But, if you want to have great moments of joy, you must embrace the vulnerability of having great moments of grief. They always go hand in hand. 

Join me tomorrow for 5 more reminders of how to cope with Christmas when you feel too sad to celebrate.

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