Grieving Through the Holidays
By Claudia Coenen
Everyday grief is hard enough, but when special dates loom, what is a bereaved person supposed to do? How will you approach these days, which usually involve celebrating with family, when someone important is now gone? Should you keep time traditions? Should you go away and try to ignore the holiday? Should you spend the day in bed with the curtains drawn or should you plaster a fake smile and pretend to enjoy yourself? How much effort are you able to put in to keep things the same or to radically change them? And how much do you need to respond to the call of other people who tell you what you “should” or “should not” do?
People often begin to worry about holidays well before they arrive. Anticipation of feeling terribly sad, lost or lonely on important dates provokes anxiety. Other family members have expectations, even though they too may be grieving. As a widow myself, I remember my first set of holidays after my husband died suddenly; my children expressed a wish to keep “everything the same.”
I tried my best, but it was arduous for me. Of course, nothing felt the same anyway. At the same time, it felt good to be surrounded by caring family members, all of whom missed our dear one. We ate good food, exchanged gifts, played some of his favorite music, even though it made me weepy. We also remembered to laugh because joy in the midst of sorrow is natural and good, even though I also had to retreat up to my room for a while to regroup.
What we need is a lot of compassion – compassion for ourselves, compassion for the needs of others, as much as we can offer that. That is why we are holding a Compassionate Circle at the NY Open Center before the holidays. Our circle will provide a sanctuary, a safe space in which to explore some possible scenarios for getting through holidays while honoring those who are gone and taking care of ourselves.
I will open our circle with a song and we will share some stories of why we have come together. The Karuna Cards will offer some lines of inquiry and perhaps some suggestions on how to approach the season. And we will explore the A B C’s of getting through the holidays. These include being AWARE of how you feel and what you need, BEING present with yourself and remembering the BREATHE, and the 3 Cs: COMMUNICATE, COMPROMISE or CANCEL. Your own thoughts, feelings and ideas will be welcome.
Our compassionate circle is a no-judgment zone. Grievers and people who help the bereaved are welcome to join our exploration, which hopefully will give you some strategies and permissions to get through the holidays.
Claudia Coenen is a certified grief counselor in private practice at The Karuna Project in Hudson, New York. She presents workshops on grief processing, fear, and uncertainty in complex situations and vicarious trauma in the workplace. Claudia is a fellow in thanatology through the Association of Death Education and Counseling and holds a Masters in transpersonal psychology, with a focus on creativity and innovation. More