Along with falling temperatures and falling leaves, there’s a quiet sense of dread that starts this time of year for many people who are grieving a death or other big loss.
Here in the United States, at least, things are about to get holida-ey.
That’s bad enough for all the people who have happy memories of celebrating winter holidays with a person or pet who has died. But it can be worse for those who have unhappy memories of such celebrations. And maybe even worse yet for people who don’t embrace these observances.
Every year around this time, you can find all kinds of articles and blog posts on “surviving the holidays.” Of course, all of those articles presume that late fall and early winter are the only times of the year that have holidays (which is inaccurate), and many of them presume that the only special days that are painful for grievers are religious holidays (which is almost insulting, given the number of days that become special in any relationship or household).
So, what if the special days you shared with the person or animal who died don’t have anything to do with pumpkins, turkeys, mistletoe, or champagne?
What if the days that bring up the gaping hole in your life aren’t on everyone’s calendar?
The first thing you can do is to anticipate. Be aware that you’ll need to take special care of yourself for the next several months.
Part of this can be figuring out what to do when other people are busy with their happy holidays.
For instance, for the fourth Thursday of November, my partner and I created our own tradition of cooking a salmon dinner to acknowledge the losses that Pacific Northwest indigenous peoples suffered when settlers moved westward and took over their lands.
On December 25, we would typically head to the beach for a bit of storm watching or a walk with our dogs.
December 31 and January 1st, since we were both business owners, we’d each pull together the paperwork for the past year. Yeah, big whoop, but no hangovers, either!
What can you do that will allow you to celebrate your relationship? Start making plans now.
Another part of coping is dealing with the reminders the media throw at us seemingly constantly: advertisements, store displays, incessant bells and music.
To avoid ads and commercials, you can cut down on tv and internet use overall; just be sure you have some healthy activities you can turn to.
To avoid store displays, maybe do most of your shopping by the end of September or October.
And if you’re super-sensitive to music, you can shop with earplugs or earbuds in. Or, like me, choose a song you really like or that’s meaningful to you and hum it or sing it softly when a particularly obnoxious song plays overhead.
For many of us, the tension anticipating having difficult days when the world around us expects us to be happy takes a toll. Adding our grief on top of that can make this season no fun at all. As any good article entitled “Surviving the holidays” will tell you, take care of yourself, and create your own ways to remember the person or pet who is no longer with you. It’s okay to have some tears – or an entire meltdown. Let it out, then look for a heartwarming memory to enjoy.
As I said, it’s about anticipating what might be painful to you, either because the mainstream holidays bring back upsetting memories, or because they aren’t your holidays at all. Do what you can to take care of yourself this year, and pay attention to what bothers you and what works to resolve the problems.
And, if you’re up for it, create some new special days for yourself and your family.