For most of us the holidays are usually a time when family and friends reflect on the past and make new memories together. For those who have lost loved ones, the holidays might feel harder to endure. The grief about that loss somehow feels more acute during the holidays. However, grief is a normal experience and expression of care and loss. Grief could be experienced as a result of the death of a loved one, a terminal illness, the ending of a marriage or relationships, or anything lost to an individual. It is experienced differently by everyone, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
According to Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross as initially discussed in her book, On Death and Dying in 1969, five common expressions of grief experienced, and process include:
- Denial – No, this cannot be happening, it cannot be true.
- Anger – Questioning, why me?
- Bargaining – Attempts to negotiate or postpose the loss or event with behavior changes.
- Depression – Emotional recognition that the loss or the event is or will happen and there is nothing that can be done to change it.
- Acceptance – Emotional preparation for the loss.
Described as defenses, these stages can be experienced differently, and there is no one specific order or way to experience them. One can spend longer in one stage than another stage. One may move forward and back through the stages in their grieving process. There are no expectations or rules when experiencing loss, and a re-experiencing of them may occur during the holidays.
Grief may be expressed emotionally or physically, for example some symptoms of grief may include:
- Feelings of sadness, numbness or loneliness
- Intense anger
- Physical pains such as body aches, digestive problems, and lower immune system
- Lack of motivation, procrastination, or depression
- Avoidance of family and friends
- Extreme focus on the loss of the loved one
Grief that occurs before loss or a life-changing event is called anticipatory grief. One may experience anticipatory grief as a caregiver of a loved one experiencing a terminal illness. Anticipatory grief may help one to prepare emotionally, financially, and socially for life after death or loss.
Things you can do to help yourself or your loved one manage grief through the holidays include:
- Give time. Helping others can help you feel better during the holidays. Activities may include volunteering at a food kitchen or donating to your favorite charity.
- Spend time with others. Making plans with friends can help keep the spirits up. Isolation from can cause you feel even more lonely.
- Talk about your feelings. Express your feelings about sadness, loneliness or even anger with supportive individuals or a grieve and loss psychotherapist.
- Change traditions. If you want to start a new tradition or let go of an old one, do what feels right for you at the time. Trust your emotions about what is best for you. If you are not interested in attending a particular event, express your needs.
Grief can be challenging and extremely hard during the holidays. Counseling can be a healthy resource if you need help learning how to process or cope with your grief. At SBS Psychological Associates, we are here to help you navigate your thoughts and process emotions. Give us a call today at 678-205-0838 to schedule an appointment or consultation.