Sunday, November 23, 2014

Grief and the Holidays: Six Ways to Care for Yourself During This Difficult Time

 The holidays are a stressful time for families, with more gatherings and high expectations for harmonious interaction. When a family member has died, the reality of the loss is painfully accentuated as the absence felt. The holidays, abounding in family memories and traditions, can activate and intensify grief, even years later.
It is difficult to grieve when other people are celebrating. However, winter is a natural time for grieving. As the life force retreats within and darkness predominates, nature seems to support and encourage us in our grieving. Healing can take place when we tend to our grief , acknowledge the changes that accompany loss, take care of ourselves (emotionally and physically), and integrate the loss of a loved one into our livesincluding the holidays.

Here are six ways to care for yourself during this difficult time.

1.                Acknowledge that this is a difficult time. Intense feelings may surface, so be gentle and patient with yourself. Accept whatever comes up; you might feel depressed, angry, sad, and lonely but you also might feel joy or relief. The first holidays after a loved one's death are often the hardest.
2.                Protect yourself when you are feeling raw and vulnerable. Avoid situations that upset or overwhelm you (crowds, malls, big parties might all feel like too much stimulation.). Give yourself permission to scale back on sending our cards, decorating, shopping, etc. Learn to check in within with yourself before automatically accepting invitations; be willing to say no if that is what feels right. When you want to, seek out the company of supportive friends and family. Also, respect your need to be alone. Be kind to yourself.
3.                 Listen carefully to your body's needs for rest, good food and exercise. Your immune system is compromised when you are grieving so you are much more at risk for colds, flu, even pneumonia. The lungs are often especially susceptible when you are grieving.
4.                Acknowledge your deceased loved ones in some way. One of my clients lit candles at midnight mass for her deceased father. Another offered a toast to his wife as the family sat down to their meal together. Another picked out and wrapped a gift she felt her mother would have given her. You can also honor the deceased by sharing stories, lighting candles, planting a tree, making a donation in their name, and putting their pictures out amidst the holiday decorations.
5.                Take ten to twenty minutes each day to retreat to a special place in your home and reflect on your loss. Give yourself over to your grief during this brief time. Allow memories and feelings to surface. You may want to explore unresolved feelings, perhaps disappointments from past holidays, or you might want to savor special moments that you shared in past years. Use this time to check in with yourself; clarify how you can best take care of yourself that day. Once your short reflection time is over, turn your attention to your daily life; take a walk, call a friend, have a cup of tea. You can further explore the powerful strategy of using the daily sanctuary in my book Honoring Grief.
 6.        Explore new ways to celebrate the holidays, planning activities and creating new family rituals that are enjoyable and meaningful. It is important to recognize that the holidays will not be the same after the loss. The first year especially you might want to do something new.  In the next holidays you can integrate these fresh possibilities into some familiar, comforting traditions. If you feel the holidays will be too overwhelming for you, give yourself permission to skip them this year. Plan other activities that feel nurturing. Even though you may resist doing so, it often helps to plan ahead so you have something in place rather than spending your time dreading or ignoring the approaching holidays. This is an opportunity to re-evaluate what is important for you during this season.

Above all, as you move through the holidays this year, be compassionate, kind and loving toward yourself.  Hold yourself tenderly in your heartaccepting the emotional ups and downs.

If we allow it to, grief takes us deep into our hearts where we are reminded that we are grieving because we have lovedand the holidays, challenging as they can be, hold many opportunities for expressing and feeling that love.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Gift of Embracing Our Daily Losses

The Way is gained by daily loss.  Chuang Tzu

Fall is shifting into winter, a time of letting go and loss. We are losing the light as the days shorten; as the sap returns to roots in the dark earth, trees are losing their leaves; plants are dying back. This is a natural time every year to feel our losses.

Over a lifetime we will experience many losses. In every stage of life, losing, leaving and letting go are essential parts of our ever-changing world.  We cannot save ourselves, nor those we love, from the sorrow that is part of life. Family members die, friends drop away, cherished possessions are lost.  Our children grow up and leave home. We lose spouses and partners to divorce or death; sometimes we lose them emotionally long before. As we age, we will be faced with the grief of unfulfilled dreams. Daily we experience disappointments, rejections, failures, mistakes, setbacks, mishaps all the little losses that are a part of our every day living.

We are tempted to think we can avoid the pain of loss if we keep busy, that we can close our hearts a little to protect ourselves.  However, it is the ungrieved losses that take their toll on our hearts and deaden us. We forget that even these, as difficult as they may be, are connected to our vitality and growth.

Every year nature in her cycle of seasons shows us the vital connection between the contraction of fall and the expansion of spring. In the fall, the life force withdraws into the roots; the growth in the deep, dark underground is what supports the new growth in the spring. Likewise, loss invites us into our depths so that in time new possibilities can break forth.

When we open to the daily losses, we make room in our hearts for the greater losses. We gain strength to grieve when a major loss shakes our world. If we pay attention to small losses, we may find that they tap into that well of grief we hold inside. Periodically take time to review your daily losses and then grieve them. Pay attention when a current loss brings up one from the past that is unresolved. Grieve that loss. Dont talk yourself out of feeling your grief. Then explore the new perspectives and choices that these losses have brought into our lives. Embracing this grief will keep your heart spacious and open to life.

In opening to grief over our daily losses, big and small, we experience both the exquisite beauty and sorrow of being fully alive. We savor the ordinary, simple moments. What a joy to simply watch the trees explode into brazen reds and coppery oranges just before their leaves drop away——what a brilliant testimony nature offers us to the beauty and power of loss!

Some suggestions for grieving the daily losses:
  Make a list of the losses (big and small) you have experienced in the past year.
  Review this list and circle the losses that you never took the time to grieve. Notice if any of these current losses have brought up unresolved grief from previous losses that need your attention now.
  Create a sanctuary for your grieving and each day focus for 10-20 minutes on your grief, taking the time to turn toward each loss (only one at a time) and embrace whatever feelings may surface suggestions for creating and using the sanctuary in my new book Honoring Grief: Creating a Space to Let Yourself Heal.

  Explore whatever new perspectives or changes these losses have brought into your life. To help with this, ask yourself questions, such as: What brings me joy? What is calling to me now in my life?, What changes do I need to make in order for my life to truly sustain me?