The holiday season is not always a happy time for people who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Whether it was a recent loss or one that occurred some time ago, feelings of grief can be heightened and may seem overwhelming during the holiday season. COVID-19 has added another layer of grief and disconnect, with a large number of families dealing with a recent loss of a loved one, and perhaps not having our normal support system nearby.
The holiday season is filled with many traditions and rituals for getting together with family and friends, but it can be painful if a loved one who is gone is no longer a part of these rituals. Understanding how grief affects you, discussing plans with those close to you, and taking time to remember your loved ones can help support you through this challenging time.
Grief and bereavement are normal human responses to loss, but not everyone processes their grief in the same way. Because each person is different, how and when those feelings surface also can vary.
There really is no predictable timetable or pattern to the process of grieving. In addition to emotions such as sadness or anger, you might recognize physical symptoms as well, including fatigue, trouble eating or sleeping, having more headaches or being more susceptible to other illnesses. Grief can change brain chemicals and hormonal functioning, and your immune system can be compromised.
It is key to pay attention to your own physical and mental health when you're grieving. Be gentle with yourself, eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, and have downtime so that you can recover from the stresses of your day. It is also a good idea to see your health care provider who can evaluate if the symptoms you are experiencing are part of the normal grieving process, or if depression has developed.
Some of what you're experiencing may include responses that don't feel socially acceptable. You might find that you can't cry — the tears just won't come. Or you might feel so down or exhausted that you have trouble just getting out of bed or off the sofa. You might realize that the coping responses you've developed might not be the healthiest, such as avoidance or numbing with food, alcohol, or other substances.
The important thing to remember is that you are unique person. Honor your process, and acknowledge that for whatever reason, this is how you respond and are attempting to cope. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It may be beneficial to seek grief counseling or join a grief support group. Knowing that you are not alone can make a world of difference. Connecting with those who understand or are going through a similar situation can provide new perspectives, affirm that what you are going through is normal and offer much-needed support.
Through the lens of these many types of reactions that are painful and difficult, you may not necessarily think of your grief as a privilege. You are grieving because you've loved, have been loved and continue to love. An important part of your healing during this holiday season may be to embrace the love and memories you've shared with your loved ones. Sharing stories among family and friends, making favorite foods, looking at photographs of happy memories or other activities may help you find that connection. Pay attention to whether this warms you or becomes too hot to touch. Let your feelings be your guide. Finding the path to navigate through all of the activities of the season may provide a needed sense of empowerment.
Source: Mayo Clinic Health System Bereavement Services