Wendy Black Stern
Founder and Executive Director
Grief Support Network
The holiday season can be a difficult time of year when you have been through a loss, regardless of whether it is recent or happened many years ago. For me, no matter how much healing work I have done, my grief still lives right beneath the surface and is easily triggered when I am with my family and steeped in the memories of holidays gone by that included my son. Over the past ten years since Noah died, I have developed some practices and simple tools to support myself and keep my heart open during the holiday season. Here are some tips to consider when caring for yourself or a loved one during this tender and often busy and overwhelming time of year. Please keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to grieve or to be there for another, rather, these are some simple and basic guidelines to help you stay grounded and connected to your body, mind and heart.
Move Your Body Every Day
Each of us has our own outlet to relieve stress, anxiety, anger or whatever emotion arises from our grief. Take a moment to consider what your personal way is to let off steam and get your chi (energy) moving. Whether your preference is hiking, walking, biking, yoga, a sport or anything else, make it a priority to schedule in time each day to move your body and get your heart pumping. This will not only feel good and connect you with your body and breath, but it will also calm your mind and increase endorphins that release powerful ‘feel good’ messages to your entire being.
Create Quiet, Reflective Spaces to Tune into Yourself
The holidays can be crazy busy, so it is important to find quiet, calming spaces to be present with yourself and your feelings. When we get caught up in social gatherings, events and the demanding pace of this time of year, our grief can get pushed aside and neglected. This may seem like a positive temporary solution, but ultimately, it will catch up to you and often make you feel depressed, anxious and out of alignment with yourself. If we can tune into ourselves each day and check in with our feelings, then we have the opportunity to meet ourselves where we are in truth and allow our grief to be felt so that it can move through us.
Cultivate a Mindfulness Practice
To truly take care of ourselves during the holidays, it is helpful to cultivate a practice in mindfulness so that we remain conscious of our inner experience even as we are navigating the energy of our family, friends and colleagues. This can be really difficult when spending time with loved ones who are grieving alongside of us as happens often during the holidays. But with mindfulness, we learn how to stay in our center and pay attention to our thoughts, emotions, and sensations so that as they arise, we do not become overwhelmed by them. With mindfulness, we learn to calm our minds, notice what is ours and what is not and tend to ourselves by witnessing ourselves in our authentic experience.
Talk About your Loved One or Loss
One of the most healing acts you can do for yourself or another while grieving is to talk about your loved one. It is a great misconception in our culture that doing this will cause someone more pain — by saying their loved one’s name or sharing a memory of them from the past. The truth is, when we are grieving we are already thinking about that person most of the time. It is often a relief to share the moments of remembering them, missing them, loving them or just thinking about them with others. It can take courage to bring it up in conversation, but give it a try and see how your feelings of grief move just by talking about the person who has died but remained in your heart.
Give Yourself Permission to NOT be Social
During the holidays there is just too much going on and a lot of pressure to ‘show up’. This is difficult for most of us but when you are grieving this can push things over the edge and cause anxiety, anger or resentment (and lots of other feelings too!). To practice self-care, we have to listen to ourselves and trust in our body’s wisdom. If you feel called to be quiet with yourself and introspective, it is OK to opt out of parties, social engagements or anything external that does not support you in being tender and nurturing with yourself. Grief invites us to listen deeply to ourselves so here is a chance to practice radical self love and to do what is truly best for YOU.