What might have once been a happy time now seems to have lost its lustre. The glitter, the lights, the music, all seem as though they belong to a different time, a different universe. Many people say that Christmas just isn't the same and it's something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
People can also feel a sense of pressure to enjoy themselves because that's what is expected. This can add to the burden of the season when it is already quite painful.
Loss can be experienced in all sorts of ways. You may be bereaved because a family member or friend has died. You may be facing the imminent death of someone you love. It may be that the grief you feel is related to a change in your circumstances such as estrangement or a decision over which you have no control. It's possible your grief is hidden because it cannot be acknowledged.
If you're facing Christmas this year and have a sense of loss, this blog is for you. It's just a few thoughts on how you can help yourself at a challenging time, when it feels like you're the only person with feelings like yours.
1. Acknowledge Your Loss
This sounds facile but it's important to recognise this is a very difficult time for you. One description of grief I heard recently described it like the moment your computer runs an upgrade. You have no control over it and while the upgrade is happening, much of the computer's functionality is lost. You just have to wait for the upgrade to complete before you can get back to normal.
People describe grief as "work". Our bodies and our brains have to process the pain. This takes time and effort.
We tend to think that once we've got past the funeral we should pick up the pieces of our lives and carry on. However, we need to work out a new normal and we need to give ourselves time. While we're doing the work of grieving we can't expect ourselves to function at 100% capacity.
2. Be Kind to Yourself
Acknowledging that the loss means we are not functioning a full capacity means we can afford to give ourselves some wriggle room. We can perhaps let ourselves off the hook about our behaviour and our work.
It is OK to be in a muddle. It is OK not to be organised for Christmas. It is OK to be in tears.
It is OK not to get all our work done. It is OK to let go of deadlines.
It is OK to stay at home and not attend a party. It is OK to turn down invitations.
You may need to take time for yourself and that is OK.
It may be that family and friends are unable to acknowledge your needs. They may need you to be happy or to pretend that everything is normal. This can be exhausting. For the sake of some peace, you may want to comply, but be aware that this will take its toll on your energy levels. As soon as possible give yourself some time to recuperate.
3. Be Prepared
You may find that people want to include you in their Christmas celebrations because they want to cheer you up. They may think that it will "do you good" to be involved.
People are kind and well-meaning, but you are the one who knows what is best for you. At this time, especially, it's important that you listen to what you need and decide for yourself what is appropriate for you.
The way to tell is to notice what is happening in your body when someone gives you an invitation. If you notice a sinking feeling in your chest or your tummy, that's your gut telling you the request is not what you want.
It may help you to have a stock phrase prepared so that you're ready to decline any invitations or requests in a way that makes you feel comfortable. So for example, you may like to thank the person but explain that you're taking things gently this year and need some quiet time. If it is an unacknowledged loss - something that people don't know about or are unable to recognise - there is no need to think of an explanation. You can simply say "No".
4. Take Time to Remember
Rituals can be helpful in grieving. It may help you to give yourself some time to acknowledge your loss and complete a ritual. This might be looking at some photos of the person you love. You might want to share the memory of them with someone else. You may want to light a candle for them or visit a special place that helps you to honour them. You may want to write them a letter or select a memento for them.
Such rituals acknowledge both what the person means to you and your loss. No one can make this Christmas the same as it was once was but you can still include the people you love in your own way.
5. Take Advantage of Counselling
It can be very difficult to grieve when you are surrounded by people who are celebrating. You may find it difficult to grieve because you are thinking of other people's feelings. You may find that people have stopped asking you about your loss or feel awkward when you want to talk.
Counselling gives you the space to be yourself and to say what needs to be said. There is no need to hold back for fear of upsetting someone. Counselling is confidential and enables you to have your loss acknowledged. Counselling will not take the grief away but having someone there to listen helps to make it bearable.
If you'd like to talk about your loss I'd be happy to hear from you.