How To Deal With Grief During The Holidays
We live in a world where everything is constantly running on auto-mode. Many of us struggle with knowing how to actually shut off. So what do you do when you have no choice? I'm talking about that moment when everything is in slow-motion and even silence starts to feel deafening. You're forced to actually sit and deal with your emotions.
With my blog titled, La Vie De La Fête, which is literally French for "life of the party," it can be rather difficult to discuss sadness, but the truth of the matter is that "life of the party" for me, holds several meanings, and serves a dual purpose as my own metaphorical allegory. Truth be told, there are many facets of life with death being one of them. I mean it's evitable right, so why is it so taboo to discuss? Well, because no one wants to be sad of course, but for some of us, we need to discuss it in order not to be.
Ok so get ready for my most vulnerable post to date...Believe it or not, I have been known to be, and have repeatedly been told, that I am extremely guarded with my emotions, so this blog post is an all-time first for me (Chileeeee...Please bare with me). But, the truth is, that this is such an important topic and I am a walking, living, testament of it.
For those of you who may not know, I lost my dear father during the onset of the pandemic in early April of 2020. To say that it was quite a shock is a total understatement. I mean we're talking about a man with the strongest immune system that I've literally ever seen...Who never got sick, and if he got a cold...He'd drink some orange juice and combat it within 3 days tops! He spent 4 days at the hospital and promised me on the phone that he was getting better (I wanted to believe him so bad, but if this thing put him in the hospital for the 1st time ever in life then I didn't know what to believe anymore), and that was the last time I spoke to my dad. This was the same man who was the first to always wish me a happy birthday...He passed on April 9th and my birthday was just a couple of weeks later on April 21st. Man...That really sucked for me.
Oh and I should have prefaced it with what we were being told by the hospital...That things were starting to look up with my dad, and it seemed as though they were getting ready to send him home soon. As a matter of fact, one nurse told me that he was the strongest she had tended to in her unit! As I heard that, I felt a sigh of relief (after all physically, he was as strong as an ox, right?), but when I excitedly told the same thing to a friend on the phone, she innocently said, "I don't know if I believe that..."Wow(!!!) Talk about feeling kicked when you're already down. When I explained that hearing what that nurse said gave me a new sense of hope, she shut down and didn't reply. That same friend then texted me weeks later, "I'm just checking on you to see if you're ok. I just don't want you to go through some "weird depression" (slightly paraphrased). I replied, that I just lost my father who was very dear to my heart, and this friend seemingly shut down yet again. From that moment on, I knew that you can't expect people to understand what you're going through when they themselves haven't dealt with the same circumstances and are processing things from their own level of perception.
Photo Credit: Leigh Wilson Photography
For the past 2 years, I have been repeatedly told that I am so strong and several people have asked me how I seemingly keep it all together. Well I am here to tell you the truth...There is a good portion of the time that I don't be having it together y'all! What you may witness is me taking things one day at a time, and being extremely strategic with what I choose to put on display for the world to see. Personally, this is the method I use to guard my own heart and to grieve in peace because if I am quite honest some of the things people have said or how they reacted to me showing any signs of grief has gotten me extremely upset. Not to mention that I actually run a business that's literal sole purpose is to orchestrate beautifully curated, celebratory events, so sadness doesn't necessarily fit into that equation.
I must admit though, having a deep understanding that people may not realize how they come across to others, has helped me to not personally fault them for processing things the way they do. Sometimes, they just don't know any better. Therefore, I wanted to write this blog post with the intention of giving a glimpse of how it can come across on the receiving end, and hopefully help someone out with tips on how they can help their family, friend, acquaintance, or colleague, who is going through their own grieving journey.
Photo Credit: Leigh Wilson Photography
The truth is the journey of grief is extremely different from person-to-person. You might just be going through the notions until reality really sets in that this person is no longer walking the earth. And then, herein comes extreme loneliness because after the funeral service and repass, you're left alone with battling your inner thoughts, which can be the most intense. For myself (and many others at that time) the funeral attendance of extended family members and friends during the onset of the pandemic was strictly prohibited, and so we were literally left alone during one of the toughest moments of our lives. We didn't even get to hold my father's memorial service until a year and a half later (which, don't even get me started on the family members who were pressing us to do things sooner than we did or implying how things should be done). Honestly, I went through all the emotions...Anger, frustration, and hopelessness, and many didn't seem to understand me or my ways of processing said grief, but I.DID.NOT.CARE. Why? Because I understood that it was something I had to go through in my own way.
Photo Credit: Leigh Wilson Photography
When you lose a loved one, especially a parent, it reshapes how you view everything you once knew. I mean I was literally welcomed into the world by my father who saw and loved me since birth. When he died, I truly felt his absence and was left with a huge void in my heart that no one will ever be able to fill. I completely changed and had to reshape who I was and struggled with coming to terms with the new me. At least that's how it was and still is for me as I navigate through my own grieving journey. The truth is that the journey never truly ends, but your approach with it has to be one where you try your best to push through each day. Some days will suck more than others, but you must at least try to push through!
Family and friends do the best they can to support you, but they too, have to move on with their lives. So it quickly becomes this interesting dichotomy of your emotions versus appeasing them because you may want to talk about it, but they don't, or they feel extremely uncomfortable when you do. And then, there are those that might say something extremely insensitive or react bizarrely, making you withdraw further into social isolation and cut contact with some of them entirely.
The truth is everyone's journey through grief is their own, and please don't ever let anyone tell you how you should be grieving a loved one. Genuine concern for someone struggling and advice is one thing, but there is a way to do it. For this blog post, I felt it truly necessary to chat with my dear friend, licensed Psychotherapist, Mental Health Counselor, & Koru Mindfulness Teacher, Alyssa Prete, who I think will be able to give us some tips on the journey of grief and how to manage especially through the holidays, which can be extremely tough for many of us. I think it is also important to discuss what to say, what not to say, and how we can ultimately assist others who are dealing with grief.
1.) Stephanie: Alyssa, it is always a pleasure! In an attempt to avoid a full-on cry session at this Starbucks Lol...I am going to get straight to it. Do you accept clients that are seemingly struggling with grief from the loss of a loved one?
Alyssa: First of all, I'm so sorry about your dad. I also have to thank you for your willingness to be so honest and vulnerable about your experience with grief. It's a complicated and sensitive issue and yet it's universal and so important to normalize and speak openly about. I absolutely accept clients with grief from the loss of a loved one and it's my honor to sit with them in their grief and support them in their journey.
2.) Stephanie: What would you say is a clear indicator that someone who is grieving should seek professional help?
Alyssa: Grieving is a normal and universal reaction to a loss and we can't really put a timeline on it. However anytime something is significantly interfering with your daily functioning and ability to perform basic tasks like showering, brushing your teeth, or your ability to fulfill responsibilities at work, school, or relationships, and of course feelings of depression, hopelessness and helplessness, and thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
3.) Stephanie: What are some easy ways where someone can acknowledge the loss of their loved one, but still try to move on and live their life in a healthy manner?
Alyssa: The pain of losing a loved one may never go away, but I do think it becomes smaller in a way where all the experiences as you move forward in life take up more space around the grief and pain, so it's no longer the center of your daily life. Give yourself grace and compassion as you move through your journey. The only way out is through. It's important to feel your grief but not drown in it. When you feel yourself no longer feeling the grief but ruminating about it in your head, that's a sign that it's time to distract yourself and choose something else to focus on. Know that it's okay to reach out for help, it's okay to ask a loved one to talk about your loss no matter how long ago it occurred, and there's no timeline or right or wrong way to move forward. Your loss is valid and although the world and your support system may move on quicker than you're ready for, it's okay to take your time and process your grief in your own unique way. People process grief differently depending on the loss, the type of relationship they had with the person, their own personality, their upbringing, and their culture and religious/spiritual beliefs.
4.) Stephanie: What are some tips for those who may not know the right words to say to someone who has lost a loved one?
Alyssa: This is such an important one because people are mostly well intentioned and want to provide comfort but, as you know, can end up saying something that hurts far more than it helps. I think simply saying these statements below, and taking some of the points-made into consideration can really help those who may not know what to say:
"I'm so sorry" is appropriate.
You can also say, "I don't know what to say right now but just know that I'm here for you."
I wouldn't ask a lot of open ended questions like, "Do you need anything or want me to do anything for you?," because the bereaved person may not feel comfortable directly asking or may even feel like a burden. I would say, "I'm bringing you dinner on Saturday night. Is Chinese food from X restaurant okay?"
Try to stay away from statements like, "He's in a better place," "God doesn't give you more than you can handle," "He was chosen for a reason," and "At least you got to spend the time with him that you did."
Also try not to share your own experiences of grief when it's not at all helpful or relatable to the bereaved. Like for example, we don't need to hear about how your goldfish died when you were 7 or how your friend with the same type of loss handled her grief. These can all come across as invalidating to the person experiencing the pain of loss.
5.) Stephanie: Omg...So I gotta admit that the goldfish comment made me chuckle Hehe...But I am so glad that you broke it down so well because so many people (myself included) struggle with what to say. So, question...What is your advice for someone who has become socially isolated as a result of losing a loved one? (i.e. For example, they may not want to attend the annual family dinners or holiday parties)
Alyssa: Sometimes social isolation is not a bad thing. If you would actually prefer to be alone and it feels too overwhelming to manage an event, it's okay. I can't say it enough: compassion, compassion, compassion. I'd pick and choose what you think you could manage and maybe make alternative plans. Maybe being in a setting with a lot of people feels like too much but you can make individual plans with the people who attended at a later date. If social isolation is becoming severe and frequent, to the point of not wanting to interact with anyone at all or leave your home, it's important to reach out for support. You may feel guilty, especially during the holidays, but grief takes time and only you need to be okay with your choice, no one else.
7.) Stephanie: Alyssa, as always it's been a pleasure meeting with you once again! If you can please let our readers know how they can contact you and book your professional services.
Alyssa: Same here, Stephanie! I always love chatting with you! I'm doing virtual therapy only right now for anyone who lives in any part of NY or CT. For those interested, the best way to contact me is through my website, www.knotandclover.com. There readers can find my email address, phone number, and contact form. I'm also on IG- @knotandclover.com. Wishing everyone a restful and joyful winter!
Well guys...That's it for now. I really enjoyed holding this interview-style chat with my dear friend, blog guest, and licensed Psychotherapist, Alyssa Prete, and I hope that you found her advice & tips on dealing with grief during the holidays extremely helpful.
Hopefully, you can implement these tips in your own life if you're dealing with grief or know someone who is. Lastly, I hope that we've encouraged you to take that extra step to booking professional services if you feel that you or someone you know may be struggling with grief, or may need a bit more help in managing the journey.
Please be sure to share this with your family, friends, colleagues, or anyone who you think could benefit from this post. Have a happy holidays, and please remember that you are seen, you are heard, you are cared for, and you are loved.
This blog post is dedicated in loving memory of my late father,
Theodore Alfred Blanc