Holiday heartache

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This past weekend my family pulled out all the boxes and dusted off all the decorations. It is a family tradition of me gently unwrapping while my children try their hardest to break everything sparkly that they touch. They are excited and a bit crazy with anticipation.

Since shortly after my husband and I got married, we’ve made a tradition of buying an ornament for the tree whenever we traveled. There are ones from Venice, Hawaii, Dublin, and even one from Regina. Santa also brings one every year for each of my children commemorating an event or something special about them to remember each year.

This tradition is not by any means unique to our family but the stories are all about us and our history together. The kids like to pull out the trinket and have Dad explain where we were when we got it. The kids are thrilled when they remember the stories. I love every minute of this. Even though it can be chaotic at times and I am usually convinced that the kids are going to slice open their feet stepping on carelessly tossed glass decorations, I am also saddened to know that these young years won’t last forever.

There is no doubt that any family holiday can bring with it mixed emotions. Many people don’t have the positive memories I share with my kids so Christmas and other family holidays they celebrate are an ongoing disappointment.

If you have had a difficult year full of loss and change then the holiday season can bring with it a certain kind of torture, one that is often ignored and covered up by all the tinsel. Whatever the loss, whether it be of a marriage, job, health or a death, this time of year can be hard. Whatever the holiday or tradition these tips can help guide you through the crap this year may have brought.

1. Be kind to yourself.

The biggest problem I see in my office is clients who are way too hard on themselves. They often list a barrage of “shoulds.” “I should have… I should… If I could just….”. So if you feel like you should do something try asking yourself, “Do I want to?” If the answer is “NO!” then perhaps prioritizing yourself is a better idea. People will understand if you give them the chance.

2. Throw yourself a pity party if you need to.

There is a time and a place for feeling sorry for yourself. If you are going to throw a pity party make it a good one. The occasional day of staying in your pajamas and eating Oreos for supper can’t be all bad. Dive right into your feelings and embrace them with everything you have. Allowing yourself to feel the intensity of emotion is one way to help move past it. Avoiding feelings only makes them follow you around like a hungry puppy. So cry until you run out of tears if you need to. I guarantee you will eventually run out of water.

3. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

There is no map, timeline or pattern. There are no stages or predictable emotions. Grief sucks but sometimes it doesn’t. Grief is different for everyone. It can be about joy and celebration or it can be about agonizing, longing and self-doubt. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Grief just is what it is.

4. Honour your loss.

During particularly intense moments like holidays, anniversaries, birthdays or other reminders of what you lost, it is a good time to acknowledge the absence in your life. Old traditions may help bring comfort or they might be too painful. Only you will know for yourself. Try to find some space to honour your loss. Things may be different now but that doesn’t mean you need to pretend that the good stuff never happened. Some people light candles, set places at the table or write letters to lost loved ones. There can be great comfort in rituals and traditions from the past or creating new ones. You be the judge of what you need.

5. No one will grieve the same way.

This is the most complicated part of grieving. What is important for you may be too painful for someone else in your family. If your spouse isn’t crying that doesn’t mean he/she isn’t sad.

6. Don’t forget the children.

Children are often forgotten in the midst of change. Whether the loss be to death, divorce or a family move, it is easy to forget that they are hurting too. Many children use play as an expression of their grief. Adults often think that this means that they are fine.

Children young and old will take their cues from the adults in their lives. Be open, honest and patient with them. Make sure to give them the opportunity to talk about what they have lost and how they feel about it.

7. Try to forgive others their faults.

People are dumb and insensitive fools. That doesn’t mean they don’t care. Many will say things they don’t mean, avoid you and just generally not get it. They don’t know any better. Remember you have said and done stupid, insensitive things to people who are struggling too. All we can do is surround ourselves with good people who love us. If we have good people in our lives then they deserve forgiveness for these faults. You don’t have to do it alone.

8. You never have to let go.

One of the most damaging myths that is out there about grief is that grief is about letting go. Your loss means something, something important. There is no reason to let go of that. I believe that grief is about finding new ways to hold on.

Life has ups and downs. This year may have had more downs. Hopefully next year will have more ups. You can get through the rough stuff. The reality is that you don’t have much choice. So be patient with yourself and follow your instincts. If we listen to ourselves we usually have the right answer about what we need. Trust yourself.

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St. Albert Gazette

The St. Albert Gazette has been the source for news and community information in St. Albert and area since 1961. Today the twice-weekly full-colour tabloid delivers award-winning journalism in print, online and on mobile.