The Holidays are Over, Now Let's Unwrap our Grief

Winter
Monday, January 12, 2015

The lights are coming down and the tinsel and decorations are being put away by the masses. A collective sigh from those grieving is often heard when the bulk of the major holidays is over. The New Year has been rung in and, for many, with far too much rich food and alcohol that is often paired with celebration or a desire to numb ourselves further from the pain of grief. 

These overindulgences can leave many feeling depressed from the effects of too much sugar, the depressant effect of alcohol and a holiday diet high in fat. It is easy to understand why the bereaved should not drink. The belief that these habits can eliminate our pain or give brief relief to our grief can actually drive us further into depression. Everywhere we turn there are ads for new diet magic to shed those unwanted accumulated pounds, health club enrollments, and classes to take on a new lease in life or create a new you. It can feel overwhelming.

Where to begin?

For many our wish since October has been for the holidays to be over. Our wish is granted, for now. There will always be events such as recurring dates on the calendar that sting with pain each time they roll by. Are we always going to feel this bad? 

Some feel that climbing out of the pit of despair is not possible. It is possible but far more challenging if we stay on a track of heavy eating, drinking and self-abuse as we try to skirt the pain of grief. Believing we won’t always feel as bad as we do now is the beginning of hope for our future. 

Holidays for some require us to put our grief on hold. We put on a happy face for those around us, leaving us even more exhausted after the holidays have passed. It takes far more energy to maintain a facade. 

How do we resume the work of grief?

Like everything else in our life we have to make a plan. It is a well-known fact that we will experience “grief bursts” throughout our life as an outcome of loss. Like physical pain we can learn to manage the psychological and emotional pain of loss. Our grief is a part of us that holds our loved one. 

We can take steps that can take some of the dread and fear out of our grief. Just as we must put our grief away at times to function, we must learn to take it out, befriend it and familiarize ourselves with that which lives inside us. The more we allow ourselves to experience the pain of loss through memory, ritual, and actions, the more comfortable we become with the feelings associated with our grief. We are able to sit with our pain without fear it will consume us. Our grief can be transformative. It can change us in positive surprising ways making us more understanding and compassionate to others. 

If we are intentional about our grief we can learn to vacillate between our joy and sorrow, which is a normal function for everyone’s life. This can be a difficult concept to grasp, so let’s start with steps that are more easily managed and a place to start now that the holidays are over.

STEP ONE – Cleanse

  • We can begin by simply increasing our water intake and minimizing alcohol.
  • Take a walk in the fresh air each day.
  • Minimize sugar; give all the cakes cookies and goodies to a shelter or throw them out.
  • Clean out one drawer or a closet; this often increases momentum to do more.
  • If we take these few steps, it may surprisingly lead to increased energy within 3 to 7 days.  

STEP TWO – Create a Goal List 

Start small -- make a list of 1 goal per month

Examples: 

  • Join a group of like grievers (shared grief can lessen the pain of grief) and reach out for support. Contact the SUDEP Institute for information on support groups and to be connected with other families bereaved by epilepsy.
  • Make a list of what did and did not work during the holidays and place this list on your October 2015 calendar so you can remember to do things different next year.
  • Plan to laugh, watch a funny movie or animal video, or go to a comedy club. Laughter actually releases feel-good hormones. 
  • Give yourself permission to cry. Play music that reminds you of your loved one, look at pictures. Remember, when the pain becomes too much, divert to a more familiar activity. Learn to be with the pain of grief in small doses. For some, this is best with the support of a counselor until you feel more confident with this practice. Not everyone needs a counselor. Your own history will be the deciding factor, so do what you feel is best for you. If you are not sure, see someone for an evaluation.
  • Self-nurture, get a massage, have your nails done, play golf, give yourself permission to enjoy life’s pleasures.
  • Embrace mourning activities, journal, read a grief book, make a scrapbook or photo book in memory of your loved one.
  • Take a trip where you can remove yourself from all that is familiar to rest and renew; this is living.
  • Consider participating in important research that is helping find a way to prevent SUDEP. Learn more at the North American SUDEP Registry
  • Consider sharing your story to help protect others. The SUDEP Institute can help you write and distribute a letter. Read how one family is daring doctors to talk about SUDEP.

This is a long list. Pick a few manageable places to begin your true commitment and intention to heal your grief. By being intentional you are conscious of what you want in your life. The power of the positive can produce desired results. In the comments below, share with us your goals for the new year or things that help you deal with grief during this time.

The pain of loss will hold a place within us for our lifetime. Denying our pain is to deny a part of who you are. We can choose to live a life that matters, a life that holds the peace hope and joy of the season all year long.

I will envision seeing a happier self. I will vacillate between joys and sorrow because I have loved and still love. I will say “Happy New Year.”

SUDEP Institute Bereavement Support Facilitator Linda Coughlin Brooks RN, BSN, CT, contributes regular articles as part of our bereavement support services. Contact her at sudep@efa.org. Learn more about our support for the bereaved.

Authored by: Linda Coughlin Brooks RN, BSN, CT on 1/2015

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