Lean Into Grief: A Practical Guide To Handling The Holidays

December 15th 2021
Once again, we're about to hit one of those gut-wrenching times of year for those that have suffered a loss and are attempting to handle their grief:  the holidays. Whether you are the griever, or you are supporting someone who is grieving, this is for you.
As we live our normal daily lives, grief is there. But it takes on quite a different persona when we reach the holidays. It's as if our emotions grow wings, depth and become larger than life.
We are bombarded by images of family togetherness. We hear stories about how our loved ones made Christmas special years ago. Parties that were attended, presents opened… but now there is someone missing at the table.
We are overwhelmed with grief, grief that is full of deep longing, grief that is and feels suffocating. We want to sink into the black hole where there are no painful memories. But we can't… so grief stands before us and taunts us that our loved one isn't here to take part in any of this.
This year may be more difficult than others for grief-struck people, especially if the grief is still raw. Of course, it depends upon how secure a person feels in their grief journey and what type of journey they have traveled so far. But if grief is a new landscape for you there will be lots of new emotions sweeping through your world right alongside all those lovely memories from past celebrations.
If grief is an old friend, it may be feeling a bit neglected because you have other things on your mind or are attempting to simply enjoy the season. Still, grief could be at the forefront of your thoughts, but you might have found some equilibrium so that it doesn't feel so overwhelming.
It's really important - especially in the early stages of grief - to realize that someone who is grieving needs to do what they need to do to get through the holidays. Sometimes what they need is to surround themselves with people who understand that grief may make them cancel plans or completely pull out of an event. Sometimes a griever could be very enthusiastic about upcoming plans, only to pull out at the very last minute. Sometimes it might mean having a few options for plans and letting friends know that they may not feel up to socializing but will keep them informed about their progress.
Being okay with canceling plans, and handling grief in the way you see fit is very important when grief feels like a massive weight on your shoulders. It's also important to remember that grief doesn't only 'hit' during the holidays; it does come around again (and again). And grief can be unpredictable… sometimes it flares up at the most unexpected time which could either be enraging or completely understandable depending upon your point of view.
It's important to acknowledge that there is no right or wrong way to handle this; what may be one person's sanity saver may be another's grief trigger. If you are supporting someone who is grieving, it's important to really listen to them because grief is a peculiar entity that sometimes talks quietly, and at other times screams.
Regardless of where grief happens to sit for you during these holidays, there are ways that we can lean into grief rather than continuing to push it away. Here are some ideas about how grief can be handled during the holiday season, for both grievers and their supporters.
1. Lean into grief by allowing it to have a seat at the table during your holiday celebrations.
I know that this could be easier said than done. Grief is a monster, and it doesn't care about what others around it may think or feel… it will simply tell you how to handle it, which isn't always going to make sense according to everyone else's view. However, if grief is invited to dinner, then maybe it can be nourished in a way that doesn't leave you feeling dead inside.
2. Lean into grief by not forcing it to be with you when it doesn't want to.
Let grief lean in whatever direction that it needs to go in. If grief leans inside (by wanting to curl up in a dark room for hours or days) then lean into that grief. If grief leans outside (like having no attention span and running off at the drop of a hat), then lean into that grief… just remember to keep your hand on its shoulder so it doesn't get lost along the way.
3. Lean into grief when creating ways to honor your loved one.
Some people create photo collages featuring their loved one instead of putting up a Christmas tree. Others create grief books for themselves which are full of notes from the people around them about how they knew and loved their loved one. If grief leans strongly towards honoring your loved one during this time, lean into that grief by letting it show how it wants to be honored. 
4. Lean into grief when you get angry with people who don't seem to 'get' what you're going through.
Even if they offer support in the form of verbalizing their thoughts and feelings. Even if they lean outward to touch you on the shoulder or hold your hand. Sometimes grief doesn't want that kind of support. Sometimes it just needs a place at the table or a hug from someone who loves you.
5. Lean into grief by allowing yourself to feel however it is that grief makes you feel.
It's okay to cry during the holidays or not to want to go out or do anything because grief might feel too heavy and deep for such trivialities at this time of year.
Grief isn't always something we can control; sometimes grief does its best work when we give in and let grief handle things in its own way and in its own time. While doing this may be scary just remember grief doesn't last forever but how your loved one lives on in your memories most certainly will.
6. Lean into grief by acknowledging the elephant in the room.
Everyone around you during the holidays is aware of the grief that is present. It makes no sense to ignore it as it does become the elephant in the room. You need to rely on your gut feeling at the time, but most situations are best dealt with by talking about the lost loved one and sharing memories.
However, it's also important to assess the situation because sometimes discussion of this nature can be too painful. It's one of those situations where you need to tread carefully and attempt to figure out what would be best. Take your cues from the griever; it won't be hard to work out the best way to deal with it.
7. Lean into grief by just asking.
Ask the griever if there is something that can be done especially to honor their loved one. You could offer to light a candle in their honor or set an extra place setting at the table. This may be too intense, so even offering to help prepare or cook meals so that there is less on their plate is something they may be very grateful for. Leaning into grief means making it even easier for them in whatever way feels best, without adding extra stress.
8. Lean into grief by remembering that grief isn't owned by anyone except the griever.
Lean into grief when people around you may be trying to fix things with advice, suggestions, hugs, and words of wisdom. This kind of advice-giving usually comes from a place of wanting to make everything better (which is completely understandable). However, while some people might offer some welcome interventions (such as grief counseling) sometimes grief needs to be out there to be felt.
9. Lean into grief by reminding yourself that holding onto grief is like hanging onto a porch swing as it swings back and forth.
Hanging on as long as possible until you can't take anymore before jumping off as it comes speeding back towards you again.
So instead lean into grief; maybe create your own porch swing with your memories of your loved one and share those memories with others so they can jump onto their own porch swing for a while… just remember to pick each other up again when things get too much.
10. Lean into grief by embracing trust.
Trust in grief; trust in yourself; lean in and lean back; take things one step at a time. Feel your grief for what it is and know that grief will come… grief will go… grief will stay. It will always be there reminding you of the fact that life has changed, but grief won't last forever. Learn to trust in grief instead of trying to push it away or hide from it.
Be gentle with yourself during the holidays when you're grieving; know that all of these emotions are appropriate and needed at this time of year even when you're not sure how to handle them.
If you enjoyed this article and can resonate with its content, maybe we are just reaching the tip of the iceberg for you. Our Lean Into Grief Through the Holidays Masterclass could provide the additional keys you are looking for; after all, you're definitely not alone. If you are grieving or are supporting a griever this Holiday Season register for  December 21, 2021 at 7pm CST on zoom. The presentation will be recording questions and shares will not be.

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