Loss & The Holidays
Everyone is familiar with the high levels of stress, love, and care during a typical holiday season. But for some, the holiday season also means bringing up some more emotions in relation to loss in their family.
Losing someone is never an easy thing to deal with, whether that's to divorce, death, or even removing yourself from a toxic situation. Then the holidays come around and all one can think about is how this season used to be when those people were still around; the pain at times can be excruciating.
This post is made in conjunction with the College of Hope class provided by Cocoon House, Someone's Missing for the Holidays, and will dive into some of my personal experiences with this topic. Along with those, there will be some tips and ideas on how to make this time of year a little bit more manageable if you've experienced this kind of loss in your life.
This year has not exactly been the easiest for me. In January of 2019 I moved back into the state of Washington after living a Utah for a short while, and the transition wasn't the smoothest it could've been. So I drove up here with a couple of friends, only bringing whatever could fit into my small hatchback with me.
I was able to get a job working at Housing Hope, the first steady job I'd had since before I moved away. And within a month of being back home and back at work, I received a voicemail as I was clocking off work, telling me that my recent-ex had just taken his own life. He was my first love and my first real relationship, and having only broken up months previous, this shook me to my core.
After the funeral, I went about my life trying to find a way to deal with the grief of this unexpected loss mostly on my own. It took me a while, but I had reached a point where I was looking toward tomorrow again. Less than 6 months later though, I was woken up early in the morning by a knock on my front door. My mother was in tears, telling me that my younger brother had taken his own life just a few hours ago. He was only 16.
I think that this loss was easier to deal with at first, as I took on a lot of responsibilities for planning the funeral. I just wanted to keep my mind occupied, because whenever it wasn't, I was in crippling pain. It wasn't until the day of the funeral that I could no longer hold it together, but as my brother had said in his letter, "It's okay to cry".
"When you lose someone special, your world lacks it's celebratory qualities. 'Holidays magnify the loss'. The sadness deepens and the loneliness can feel isolating. The need for support may be the greatest during the holidays." - Grief.com
This is going to be my first holiday season without these two people in my life. Below are some tips for helping with grief from the Someone's Missing for the Holidays class. I'm going to try a few of them out this season to help make it through, and I suggest you do the same. We all need to make sure that we take care of ourselves during the holidays.
1. Acknowledge the holidays will be different and they will be tough. Decide which traditions you want to keep from your times before this loss and if you want to change any.
Every year in my family, on Christmas Eve, we all open one gift: Pajamas. These are usually those matching pairs for the whole family, and once we all get changed, we look like we're straight out of a Kohl's holiday commercial. Since this is our first year without my little brother being there, we're going to try and keep that tradition going, but if it's too hard things might change in the future.
2. Make a memorial decoration in honor of your loved one.
This was one that stood out to me even before I heard it at class. After my ex passed away in February, I had gotten a tattoo of a semi colon, meant to symbolize suicide-awareness or if you'd struggled with those feelings in the past. When my little brother passed away, I took a long time deciding on how I wanted to memorialize his memory in a place I'd always have close-by. From the semi colon on my wrist to my elbow, I got a set of angel wings added with the words "It's Okay to Cry" in between the top section, in the font from his favorite game "Dark Souls". Maybe a tattoo isn't the way that you want to memorialize the loss of your loved one, that's just what worked for me. Another option would be to make an ornament to hang on the tree or a shadow box of things that belonged to your loved one to hang on the wall.
3. Make a donation to a charity that was important to them, in their name.
This one lines up with a plan I had already set in motion back in November. I started growing out my beard for "No Shave November", and then decided it was important to me that I have a reason I'm doing it. I have pledged to donate a dollar a day for every consecutive day I don't shave my face to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Find a charity that was important to your loved one, and make a donation in their name. You'll get the thank you card back addressed to them, and it can be a way to keep their memory alive and well.
4. Plan ahead and communicate!
The most important thing to do when maintaining relationships in general is to communicate. This season is about getting together with family and friends. Some of them you don't get to see too often, and the last thing you might want is to be constantly asked "Hey, is there something wrong?" or "What's up? You seem like you're not in a great mood". The holidays are going to be rough, and it can help to communicate to the host of the party, or others that you feel safe with, that you're not feeling great. You don't have to go into specifics if you don't want to, but it can help in deterring questions that may trigger feelings you're not wanting to experience in public, or specifically in that setting. Having a support system in place, ready to step in during uncomfortable conversations, can reduce your anxiety and help you feel more comfortable.
5. It's okay to ask for help. And if someone offers, take them up on it.
Sometimes we get caught up in the "I can do it myself" mentality. When dealing with a loss, it's not always easy to recognize that you need help. If a certain task or responsibility is proving too difficult to do on your own for any reason, ask for help. Family/Friends/Neighbors are usually very willing to help you out, especially when they know your story.
This isn't a complete list of ideas to help you with dealing with loss & the holidays. If you'd like more information, here are a few websites you can visit.
I hope that this information has been useful. From all of us at College of Hope, we wish you a safe and fulfilling holiday season. Please take care of yourself to the best of your abilities, and try to ask for help when you are unable to. We look forward to seeing you back in class in 2020!