Rediscovering Holiday Peace

By Laurie Stickney, LMWS, Niagara Hospice Medical Social Worker & Bereavement Counselor

   Holiday traditions are rife with history and connections to times gone by. They are connections to a time when your loved one was alive and well, and participating in the festivities. You know by now that nothing will ever be the same in your life; it is forever changed by the life and death of this person.

   You see the stores stocking their shelves with holiday merriment and hear the songs wafting through the stores, see people so happy and full of excitement at their participation in the holiday rituals. You may just want to scream at them, punch them, or slide to your knees and sob for hours. 

   Then comes the guilt, "I should not be feeling this way, or begrudge these people their fun.” Or you may feel anger, “Why do these people get to share their lives and traditions with their loved ones, when mine has died?” And the fear, "Will I ever find beauty, peace and fun in the holidays again?" The sadness, "This is not me, I love the holidays and host all the get-togethers, how am I going to get through it all this year?" All of this can create profound sadness and confusion. So many thoughts go through your head, so many feelings course through your body, or perhaps none at all. Perhaps you are just numb to it all.

   Numbness is a perfectly acceptable coping mechanism, but if you are one of the ones who don't employ that mechanism, let's talk about it. Let's talk about expectations. We expect so much of ourselves and usually put our hearts and heads through it just to reach the desired goal, and end up sick half the time when it is over.

   This year, ease up on expectations of yourself. You have had a huge trauma thrust upon you and you must be given the time and space to recover. How about the expectations of others? Many well-meaning friends and relatives just want you to be your old self and be happy, the way you used to be. But maybe you just don't have it in you this year. Forgive them their expectations and try to explain in the best way you can, assuring them that you will be okay. And you will be okay. Grieving takes time but it is so worth it when you have come out the other side.

   Some solid advice for you is to be patient with yourself and do only what you can, don't push too hard. Know your limitations. When you feel and react to some of your own triggers, let it happen and know it is normal. Feel free to change traditions or make new ones. There is no getting around the fact that something is different, so don't try; it's too much work for which you don't have the energy.

   Above all, take care of yourself- physically, mentally and emotionally. Be sure you are not shy about telling those around you what you need, they will understand. Listen to yourself through the holiday season and find your meaning, peace and hope.

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