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Surviving the 2021 Holidays After a Recent Loss

It’s nearly impossible to not get personal when talking about grief. Most of us have dealt with it in some form or another at some point in our lives. Whether it was an older relative when we were younger, a pet, a relationship, a dream, or unquestionably the worst kind of loss – someone near and dear to our hearts. Grief doesn’t discriminate. It’s awful. It’s crushing. It feels like it will never end and it’s a pain like no other.

“To live is to love. To love is to risk pain. To risk pain is to live. It’s what it means to truly be human.” – Lysa TerKeurst

Hearts have been broken over lost dreams and lost loved ones, alike.

Stages of Grief & LossGrief is grief. It comes in all different shapes and sizes. Sure, you’ve heard of the 5 or 7 stages of grief: shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression, the upward turn, reconstruction and working through, and acceptance and hope. These are not carved in stone. One person may experience each of them in order, while another skips around and goes back and forth. There are no rules. There is no right or wrong way to walk through losing something or someone you love.

As we head into the holidays and as we come in just shy of two years since the COVID-19 virus began, we wanted to open the discussion of grief literacy. This year, for the first time ever, hundreds of thousands of people will face the holidays without their loved one(s). If that’s you, I see you, I hear you, and I know how much you’re hurting. You are not alone. I won’t lie; the next few months are going to be hard. No, they won’t all be tears and heartache. You may even find yourself crying some tears of joy at some point and then you’ll probably immediately feel guilty for feeling that joy and subsequently cry tears of guilt. These are all normal, human emotions. I promise there isn’t anything wrong with you.

How Different Cultures Experience Grief

Different cultures experience death in different ways. Many African cultures believe that ancestors continue living after death, watching over the family in the afterlife. So, funerals are a colorful, boisterous celebration of life. Asian funerals can last up to 45 days, with a typical ceremony carrying on at least 5-7 days. Mourning families visit the grave together every year, burning incense, money, and other gifts that are sent up to their loved ones. Latin, Central, and South American cultures dedicate an entire day to celebrating lost loved ones – the Day of the Dead. Some even believe that the deceased can rise and join in the celebration on that day.

How the United States Deals with Grief

The United States, on the other hand, is woefully ill-prepared. In the US alone, we’ve lost 730,000 to COVID-19 alone in the past 18 months. We can’t mention the immense loss from the pandemic without also remembering those we’ve lost from non-covid related illnesses, as well as any other type of loss that Covid also caused. Many have lost jobs, homes, dreams, relationships, the list goes on… because of this woeful thing that we are all experiencing. Aside from taking a couple of days off work for a funeral, the American culture doesn’t have any other sort of process for mourning the loss of our loved ones. We’re expected to just get over it and get back to work. That is not ok.

When it comes to a clear understanding of how to deal with grief, we fall short. Because of the pandemic, many family members have not even been given the chance to do the one thing that we do know how to do, hold a funeral. I attended one virtual funeral last April. It was terrible, not because it was a funeral but because it was virtual. Some people didn’t know how to put themselves on mute. So, they were laughing and just chatting up a storm during the ceremony. There was an older couple who kept talking about how they didn’t know how to use Zoom. The host didn’t understand how to “mute all”. It was just terrible. Meanwhile, 80 others trying to mourn the loss of a vibrant 28-year-old, who instead were now just angry at the few people who wouldn’t stop talking. It was not ok.

Holding a funeral is meant to help us close the grief loop and move on to the acceptance stage of grief. That’s not to say you won’t move back to another stage at some point. But, spending time with others and celebrating the life of your loved one is an important and cathartic step in your journey of dealing with loss.

As a country, we may not have quite the handle on grief, death, and loss that other cultures have. We’re playing catch-up. We’re dealing with it collectively all at once. Other cultures have been practicing this one for centuries. We’ll get there though.

Grief During the Holidays

holiday griefOne thing we are great at as a country is holiday traditions. And, that is what is going to make this year especially tough on those of us who are facing the holidays without our loved ones for the first time. As the holidays approach, no matter which stage of grief you may have found yourself in at the time, it’s a safe bet that there will be a relapse at the worst possible moment during the hustle and bustle of the season. It may happen while you’re putting up the tree, maybe when it comes time to carve the turkey or make a certain recipe. Whatever it is, remember it is ok to stop and allow these feelings to process. Don’t push them down. Don’t pretend the pain isn’t there. There are no rules that say you can’t have a good cry while wrapping presents.

In my experience, both personally and professionally, grief comes with a few certainties, no matter the circumstances.

  • christmas griefYou’re never really ready, no matter how prepared you may be.
  • Everyone experiences grief in their own way, even if the basic “stages” are the same.
  • People tend to believe grief shrinks over time. What really happens is we grow around it.
  • There will always be a moment when people annoy you so much that you want to tell everyone to shut up and go away. Try to resist the urge to be mean, of course, but do set and stick to boundaries and give yourself the space you truly need.

You Are Not Alone

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you stumbled on this blog because you lost someone recently. You are also probably sick of hearing people say they’re sorry. “I’m sorry” doesn’t bring back the smile of the sweet soul you lost. It doesn’t heal the pain you feel. It doesn’t fill the gaping hole in your heart. So, I’ll skip the platitudes. You’ve heard them all. I will tell you this though, I promise you are not alone. I promise it does get easier. I promise the sun will shine again in the new year. And, you are going to think I’m crazy for saying this, but I promise a day will come that when you think of your loved one and smile and laugh and only remember the good times.

We know so many of you have lost someone dear, or something dear over the past couple of years. We are here for you. We know this is likely the hardest thing you’ve ever had to go through. We understand. You don’t have to walk through this alone. We know you are dreading the holidays. That is OK. We get it. If you need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. This is a judgment-free zone. Call us today to schedule an appointment.

Sending you light and love,
Claire & The Claibourne Team

~ You are worthy. You are capable. You are enough! ~

Claibourne Counseling Scottsdale