What's so jolly about the festive season when some of us are dealing with grief?
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Grieving the loss of a loved one during the holiday season is extra difficult, as it’s typically a time filled with joyous family reunions.
From wrapping presents for one less person to enjoying wholesome home-made meals with an empty seat at the table, when the family are all together for the holidays, the absence of a loved one’s presence is often that much greater.
Sharing insight on the subject, counselling psychologist Rakhi Beekrum said that she is used to witnessing grief within her profession. “However, I have witnessed more grief in 2021 than I have in all my years of practice combined (that’s 12 long years).”
There’s also the matter of people who grieving their “old-selves” and are coming to terms with the loss of who they were as a person in pre-Covid times. “People are dealing with mourning the loss of ‘normal’ routines, missed celebrations, missed holidays, loss of employment, as well as financial losses,” she said.
For Beekrum, understanding that grief is a process that needs to be worked through is one of the first steps towards navigating your journey towards healing. “Not allowing ourselves to process grief can exacerbate our negative emotions. If we avoid truly acknowledging our feelings, crying when we need to and allowing ourselves to feel the pain of the loss, the holidays will be much harder,” she said.
While tremendous sadness at the unexpected loss of a parent or loved one can be overwhelming, it isn't often the only emotion we experience. There is sometimes a sense of guilt and shame that comes with experiencing something other than sadness that can make us feel worse.
Beekrum expressed that it's normal to experience multiple conflicting emotions at the same time. “It’s possible to experience moments of joy even in the midst of grief. Happy moments with children, family and friends or while doing something that you love is not being insensitive to the deceased. We sometimes feel that we have to be sad all of the time when grieving. While it’s normal to feel overwhelmed with sadness after a loss, as time goes on and we re-establish routines, the sadness comes in waves.”
Beekrum also drew attention to the fact that every person grieves differently, and every person has different needs when grieving. She said: “While some might benefit from going away, others may not want to. While some may want to see family and friends, others may prefer being alone. Do not judge someone who grieves differently from you.”
While grieving, take time to self reflect and to recognise that others do not know what you need or what would help you. Beekrum suggested opening up to people closest to you to help them understand where you are on your journey.
But, remember: “Even those with the best intentions may come across as insensitive, in the hope of making you feel better,” said Beekrum. “Communicate what you need. It’s okay to admit that you’re still struggling if you are turning down an invite.”
Ultimately, experiencing a loss is a reminder that life is impermanent. She said: “Therefore, those still in our lives will also not be here forever.” Therefore, there is also a strong desire and need to make lasting memories with other loved ones.
“Special days are especially difficult when you are grieving. Decide in advance how you’d prefer to spend these days. There might be some traditions or rituals that you prefer to continue, or there might be some you’d like to amend. Even though such days are difficult, having a plan makes it somewhat easier. Yes, there will be sadness, but it will not have to be all day long,” said Beekrum.
Tips for navigating the holiday season:
Process your grief on an ongoing basis, acknowledging the reality of the loss. Feel your feelings.
Plan ahead of time. Communicate your plans to those affected.
Decide what boundaries will be most helpful to you. What are you comfortable doing? Who are you comfortable spending time with? What invites are you comfortable accepting? There is no right answer.
Decide on which traditions to uphold, amend or skip altogether.
Be compassionate to yourself. Grief is hard, and the holidays are meant to be hard during grief.
If you are struggling to get through each day or re-establish some normal routines, seek professional help.
Call SADAG’s 24-hour helpline on 0800 567 567