By: Dr. Samuel White, III, Academic Dean, Ecumenical Theological Seminary
The holidays can be a very stressful time, especially for those who are grieving the death of a loved one. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day are promoted to be a festive time of love, peace, and joy. Unfortunately, for many people the memory of a deceased loved one can create feelings of sadness, loneliness, disappointment and anxiety.
Moreover, COVID 19 has not only stolen the lives of our loved ones, it has drastically changed the holiday season. The empty seat at the Thanksgiving table, the lack of laughter on Christmas and acute loneliness of the New Year’s Eve are painful reminders of the death of our loved ones. The holidays will never be the same and many dread their arrival, however, the following Holiday Healing Tips will help you cope with your grief.
• TIP ONE: Take off the “holiday mask” and express your grief. It can be extremely stressful to pretend to be happy when you are not. A major part of the healing process is recognizing, embracing and expressing your grief. Do not hold back the tears. Crying can be very therapeutic. Dr. William Frey II discovered that the chemical found in tears can function as an analgesic. Crying can reduce the intensity of emotions by about 40%. The best thing you can do for yourself is to cry and share your feelings. “Tears are God’s gift to us. Our holy water. They heal us as they flow,” states Rita Shiano
• TIP TWO: Take time to remember, reflect and talk about your deceased loved one. “Grief is the process of remembering and not forgetting, “states, Laurie Van Damme, RN. If it’s possible visit the grave site, look at a picture album, talk about the “good ole days,” listen to their favorite music, eat their favorite food, reflect on one a keepsake, write a letter to them or journal your thoughts and feelings.
• TIP THREE: You do not have to relive the past by doing the same holiday rituals. Feel free to change rituals, and traditions to honor the deceased. There is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays. Do what feels comfortable for you and your family. Light a candle, create a special wreath, talk about them at family gatherings, put a Christmas ornament on the tree or give a gift to a needy person in their memory.
• TIP FOUR: Do not hesitate to rely on your emotional support system. “We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to,” writes Brene Brown. Do not hesitate to rely on empathetic family members, friends, clergy, and therapist or attend a Grief Support Group.
• TIP FIVE: Use your spiritual or religious support coping skills. Mindfulness exercises, mediations, reading comforting scriptures, religious literature, worship, and especially prayer is good for the heart and soul. Healing comes when we pray to God and share our grief. Soren Kiekegaard is right, “Prayer does not change God, but changes him who prays.”
• TIP SIX: We experience healing when we heal the wounds of others. “We are all wounded healers,” says Carl Jung. As you transcend your loss and comfort others, you will experience comfort. The more we give, the more we receive. Volunteer your time at a shelter, nursing home, be a tutor or mentor a child. Give a gift in memory of your deceased loved one. It is truly “more blessed to give than receive.”
• TIP SEVEN: In spite of your loss, you have the freedom to choose how you will respond to the Holidays. You can choose joy over sorrow and hope over despair. “Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way,” states, Viktor Frankl. Despite, how you feel, you can choose how you will respond to the Holidays. You do not have to do what others do or wallow in the pit of sadness and despair. You can rise up and still enjoy your family, friends and the holidays. Abraham Lincoln is right, “People are as happy as they want to be.”
• TIP EIGHT: Your loved one is not with you physically, but they are with you spiritually. Mitch Albom says, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” The Spirit of your loved one lives within your heart and mind. They have left you a legacy of memories, wisdom and experiences that will inspire you for the rest of your life. Celebrate the life they lived and still lives with you.
• TIP NINE: “The greatest gift that you can give yourself is a little bit of your own attention,” states Anthony J. D’Angelo. Pamper yourself with a bubble bath, manicure, massage, pedicure, listen to your favorite music, get plenty of rest, go to movies, go for a walk, buy yourself some flowers, take yourself out to dinner, go shopping, exercise daily, eat healthy, or plan a trip. Love yourself. You cannot love and respect anyone, unless you love and respect yourself. Do not be afraid to say, “No” to others and “Yes” to yourself. The greatest gift you can give your family and friends is yourself, therefore, take care of yourself.
Dr. Samuel White, III, Academic Dean, ETS
Author of Healing During the Holidays