Surviving the Holidays: Creating Space for Healing
We tend to stay away from mourning and dancing. Too afraid to cry, too shy to dance… we become narrow-minded complainers, avoiding pain and also true human joy… While we live in a world subject by the evil one, we belong to God. Let us mourn, and let us dance. -Henry Nouwen
Jesus wept. -John 11:35
This year will not end like last year at all. You have learned to be free. You have learned to stay strong. You have held onto light when the night was too long. You have braved many fears. You have learned a new song. And through all of these valleys you have learned to stand tall. This year will not end like last year at all. -Morgan Harper Nichols
My Thanksgiving Day probably didn’t look like most people’s. But then again, my image of what Thanksgiving looks like and has been, may be so different from what others experience on that day. For me, the whole week of Thanksgiving is where my grief quickly reared its head.
Before the holidays hit, I had been tricked into feeling that my grief was gone, and that I was somehow over it. I soon learned, as so many others have shared with me, that grieving is different for everyone.
Grief often hits when it’s least expected and in the oddest of ways. It can come as just a few tears while I’m driving in the car or shopping in the grocery store. And other times it hits like a monsoon. There’s been times where I feel sucked down by waves and waves of tears that feel like they’ll never let up. But they always do, and I always feel better after the release.
Just this past week, I was preparing food for my family in our kitchen. It was just a few days before Thanksgiving, and I had one of those unexpected monsoon moments of grief. My week had already been long and hard, and I just wanted some upbeat music in the kitchen to keep me going, as I was cooking. I didn’t think about it being a trigger as I switched on the Amazon radio station, “Cooking with Classic Soul”. As soon as my finger hit the “play” button, “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire came on.
It was only 10 seconds into the song and I could picture my dad listening to this same song, dancing, being silly, and trying to get my mom to dance or my brother and I to laugh at his own dancing. I quickly turned it off. Tears streamed down my face. I wanted to listen to music. I wanted to listen to this music, but I couldn’t.
I switched to a Christmas music station, and then quickly realized I couldn’t listen to those songs either. They all reminded me of how my dad loved Christmas. He always had such a child-like spirit around the holidays. He enjoyed wrapping all the gifts, decorating the tree, watching Christmas movies, and attending the Christmas Eve church service.
Anger began to rise inside me. “I hate this,” I thought. I just want to go about my day, I don’t want to deal with all this “stuff” that seems to be surfacing at the worst time when I’m already stressed and need a break. This wasn’t the place for crying, in front of my children as they played, while I was cooking and trying to get things done in my house, trying to keep the day running smoothly.
But, it didn’t matter what I thought, the tears were coming, and I couldn’t stop them. They came and went, but the anger stayed. I continued to feel angered at every thing and suddenly overwhelmed that I couldn’t do anything. Defeated. Frustrated. I was at the end of my rope for that day and that week. How was I even going to make it to Thanksgiving if all these emotions were rising up in me at that moment?
In that moment of grief, I felt so unprepared and disconnected. It felt like no one understood my grief, like no one could get what I was going through. How long was this going to last? What is God doing with all of this? Why can’t I just be over this? I didn’t expect that these emotions would be coming back when they had been gone for so long, or at least hidden and tucked away.
This past month, I attended the Grief Share workshop, “Surviving the Holidays”. Through this workshop, I was able to gather with other people who have also recently lost loved ones. I didn’t know what to expect as I went into this workshop; it seemed like a big step just to attend. I knew I would be addressing my loss and the emotions that came with it once again. But I also knew, this workshop would help give me coping strategies for the holidays, and it would allow me to connect with people who would “get it”. They could relate to what I was experiencing.
For me, one of the hardest parts of grief has been communicating with others what I need. This has been tremendously difficult because everything in grief is so new and raw. Emotions have come out of this that I didn’t know I was capable of feeling. Through this workshop, I have been able to gain the skills to properly address some of these feelings and share with others how I can be loved and cared for in this time of healing.
First off, I was able to recognize that I have way too much on my plate right now. I’ve had too many commitments (as I shared in my last blog post). It’s okay for me to say no, to take a step back, to give a tentative commitment to events rather than a solid “yes” or “no”, and to give myself time for self-care.
Sometimes that self-care is being with others, and other times it involves time alone. Through this healing process and taking care of myself, I’m giving myself space and time to grieve, rather than just pushing through and trying to pretend like everything is normal. And maybe somedays it will feel normal, but other days and weeks, it won’t. Through giving myself time for self-care, I’m allowing myself to face my emotions and feelings head on, and to allow them to be released for healing.
This workshop also gave me the skills to communicate a “grief letter” or just express my feelings and needs better with friends and family in my life. Just this past week, I wrote an e-mail to my MOPS group explaining how tears may pop up and here and there, I really don’t know when, but I let them know how to best care for me and love me in that time. Sometimes, I just need time to myself in another room, and other times I may need to leave an event and just be alone. I also communicated that it’s okay for them to talk about my dad. I don’t mind that, and if I’m not in a good place where I’d like to talk about him, then I’ll simply change the subject. But I do appreciate honoring his memory in conversation.
Beyond self-care and communicating my needs to others, there were so many other valuable “survivor tips” that I took away from the “Surviving the Holidays” workshop. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has had a loss. And it doesn’t matter if that loss was ten years ago or one week ago, this workshop can truly benefit anyone that’s still grieving and needs helpful strategies to cope with the holidays.
After my grief surfaced several times in that week leading up to Thanksgiving, my husband and I quickly realized that I was overwhelmed with the first major holiday approaching. He was the one who suggested that I stay home and have time for myself on Thanksgiving Day, rather than try to connect with others, wrangle our kids, and have a typical holiday with family and friends. I quickly realized that that’s exactly what I needed in that time. I needed time to myself. I needed time for self-care. I needed the space to collect my thoughts, reflect, grieve, and just relax without worrying about caring for someone else.
Amazingly enough, my Thanksgiving evening included a bath, a movie, and me painting my nails while my husband left with the kids to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws. For all the other mommas of little ones out there, you know how impossible it is to paint your nails with little ones around, and then actually get them completely dry. Yeah, that doesn’t happen. It was truly an amazing few hours to myself, and it was needed. I was also given the opportunity to think about my dad and grieve if I felt the need.
Unexpectedly, after my movie ended, a golf special came on television. I don’t watch golf, but my dad did, and I knew that he would have kept the television there.
He would have watched what I was watching, so I was interested in that moment to hear more about the Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson rivalry that would ensue the following day. It was a show that I wouldn’t have been able to watch with my kids there, and most likely my husband and I would have been watching something else if he were home.
I was able to enjoy a quiet half hour thinking about my dad, learning more about a sport he enjoyed, and cherish the memories of him that flooded my brain.
In that time, I was healing. No tears came that evening, just smiles, and texts to my brother and mom telling them about what had come on my television that evening. Truly, only God had put those few needed hours into place. And I wouldn’t have experienced that precious alone time if I had rushed off to do the “normal” Thanksgiving Day routine.
With this year coming to a close, I’m both growing and healing into this new person. I’m not the same person I was at the beginning of this year or even a few months ago. I’m learning to give myself the space and time to rebuild and be changed by my grief for the good. I’m learning what it means to “be kind to myself”. And I’m grateful that God continues to mold and shape my heart in this process of difficult change.
The reason my self-care is so important… taking care of these beautiful babes & a crazy dog