From the title of this blog post, you may be expecting a happy story about a Christmas event or pageant, children on stage singing or dancing. Instead, what you'll be reading about is dealing with grief during the holiday season.
It is a proven fact that around religious holidays, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, etc., there is an increase in mortality rates. The concept of mortality rates can be traced as far back into history as Babylonian times and the rule of King Hammurabi. In our modern times, this translates into insurance companies creating their mortality charts. As this became standard practice, there became occasional note in media that death rates increase around significant religious holidays.
Think for a moment, and doubtless, either you or someone you know has lost a beloved family member or friend around a religious holiday. I fall into this category, having lost the person I consider to be my strongest father figure. He was my Uncle, my Mom's eldest brother, the patriarch of our clan. Several years ago, he passed from this life on Christmas Eve morning after a lengthy, brave battle with debilitating illness. As the Christmas holidays draw near, I find, despite my best intentions, there are definitely moments of melancholy that visit my heart. Small wonder that if I feel these moments, the rest of the world might be visited by similar feelings in relation to their own personal losses.
There are many schools of thought about reasons that so many souls choose a religious holiday as the time to release from their physical body and pass from this reality. My own thoughts on this topic are very personal, with one of the thoughts being that our Souls recognize an increased energy around high holy days. I have always thought that this increased energy might facilitate an individual in making the choice to release from their physical body. The reasons are myriad, the theories about this are endless, and at the end of the day, they probably don't matter beyond the ability to comfort us in the midst of painful, sad moments.
I have no mysterious remedy for this, other than to give it voice. We are all very accustomed to slapping on that bright, cheerful social mask to cover our roiling emotions. It's the holiday season (or whatever other particular moment in life where sad memories surface), be happy, upbeat and positive!!! Don't be sad about the loss of a loved one, for fear you might drag everyone else down around you!! Right?! We all feel obligated to project that facade so that we don't make others uncomfortable or sad right along with us. It is obvious that this tendency to stuff down our emotions around significant holidays and/or anniversaries of losing a loved one makes dealing with these significant dates that much more challenging. When, and why did we as a collective society decide that it makes more sense to paste a happy smile on our faces than to honor our true emotions?
Strong emotions, especially those connected to loss, do make most people uncomfortable. It hits too closely to home for everyone; if you're mourning the death of a loved one and you present those emotions outwardly, that in turn can trigger buried emotions in others. It's just a human response, this triggering of fears and resistance, and the need to cover everything up with a neat, tidy, happy facade. Another truth is that most of us don't deal with significant loss immediately and instantly.
Most of us are familiar with the five stages of grief. They are as follows:
Christmas, Hanukkah and the New Year, altogether, present a time when family and friendship is our focus, so of course sadness will lurk beneath the surface as we have wistful moments, missing those no longer here with us physically. It is, therefore, not surprising that we'll sometimes feel sucker punched with sad moments.
Dealing with sad anniversaries is never easy. What works for me might not work for you, but I can share my own process. When I begin to feel those sad moments creeping in, the most important step that I take is to recognize it for what it is. Life can be so hectic around the Christmas season that we don't pay enough attention to how we're honestly feeling. We'll rush from one obligation and social function to the next, pushing the sad, bad, confused or angry emotions down until they finally expand and explode. So, for my own mental and emotional health, I find it of paramount importance to stop and identify what I'm feeling. It doesn't always come readily to mind for me either, because of course it's much easier to deny sadness and instead label it as being tired or grumpy or something much easier to ignore.
What I have learned over the years is that embracing the seemingly negative emotions does not equal failure of any type on a personal level. The true failure, I feel, comes from denying what we feel and never allowing it to have enough of a voice for it to be processed. So, I take time to look inward. It isn't always pleasant, or easy, and rarely is it enjoyable. It is, above all, vitally important. I feel that in a way, it is a moment of Grace and tribute, when I stop, identify the reason for those melancholy moments and let myself feel what comes from within. Grace, because I am honoring myself when I allow myself to grieve. Tribute, because in recognizing these feelings, it gives me a moment to remember the person I loved deeply. When I do open up to myself, the memories that I embrace are inexorably entwined with all the reasons I loved that person. So, yes, sadness will be felt. Many times the result is tears. Eventually, though, happier memories will also flood my mind and in a different manner, I will go through those five stages of grief all over again before coming to that moment of acceptance.
The inescapable truth is that when we lose someone we love, it is a life sentence. We spend the rest of our lives learning how to cope, manage our lives and live without that person's physical presence. That's the challenging part. Just when we think we're doing really well, a holiday or anniversary will approach and cut us off at the knees. Psychologists developed the five stages of grief to identify what we are feeling and where we are in relation to dealing with personal loss. From that perspective, the concept is valid, but I honestly feel that it doesn't come to a definitive, full stop, ever. I am not saying that we exist in sharp, raw grief permanently, nor would I suggest such a thing is healthy or prudent. What I am trying to point out is that we do experience layers of grief, sadness and loss in sometimes unexpected ways at different times, for various reasons. As a result, we experience a micro-moment, often repeatedly, of those five stages.
In light of this, I think that kindness would be the word of the day. If you can step back from everything else that requires your attention and focus your attention on You, compassion and understanding are what you deserve when you are confronted with those unexpected holiday triggers, layers and stages of sadness. You deserve kindness, and a few quiet moments to look clearly at what you are feeling. Give it voice, allow yourself to feel, to remember, to cry; perhaps smile or laugh. Then, when you feel ready, you will be able to gently tuck the memories back into a corner of your heart and mind that will allow you to move forward with strength, rather than sapping you of energy and enjoyment of the holiday season. Remind yourself that these feelings will surface again, and recognize that this time, by embracing the moment with Grace and acceptance, you will possibly be able to achieve a more solid balance.
Talking about it with family or friends might be an integral part of this process; there are no hard and fast rules here. Do what works best and feels right for you. In talking with others, you may be surprised to find that you've opened the door up for them as well, to do some processing, sharing and healing of their own.
In closing, I wrestled with myself about posting this blog. It is a highly personal and volatile subject, and perhaps not one many will want to contemplate in the midst of the holiday season. I was feeling sadness as the calendar approaches a personal anniversary date of loss, and for me, writing out the emotions and giving them voice was helpful and healing. I have no idea if what I have written and shared will be of a helpful nature to others, but I am going ahead with posting it. Perhaps these words and thoughts will resonate with others out there and bring a moment of clarity and peace to their hearts as they realize they are not alone with what they are feeling. Maybe the simple suggestion that yes, you will go through repeated, myriad experiences of those five stages will be a moment of epiphany for someone out there, allowing them to embrace kindness towards themselves as they process through that most current incarnation.
If you have stayed with me through to the culmination of this particular post, whether it clicked with you on a personal level or not, you have my appreciation for spending time with me as I navigated through my own five holiday stages. As a result, my heart is lighter and I have been able to move forward with a gladdened spirit to enjoy my Christmas. Blessings to you all, this year, this holiday season.