When Holidays Are Blue
It has been a privilege for me to accompany people on their evolving journeys with grief and, despite what department store and elevator music is telling us, this is not always the ‘happ-happiest’ time of the year for everyone. All of us have experienced some kind of loss in our lives. If we have lost someone dear to us, memories of holidays we shared with them may be poignant or sad. Holiday emphasis on family meals, social gatherings, celebrations and expectations of the joy that is supposed to accompany all of the holiday trappings can trigger what grief expert Therese Rando calls sudden, temporary upsurges of grief or STUGS. Whether your loss is recent or happened many years ago, STUGS can seemingly come from nowhere at holiday times.
Respecting feelings of grief and loss while not being overwhelmed by them is part of what we learn as we grieve. Remembering that we have strengths and resources unique to us and calling on those resources can help us move through STUGS and not be engulfed by them. Remember what has helped you along the way:
Community Resources. Realizing that many people experience a surge of grief at the holidays, many faith communities and community organizations such as hospices have been responding by scheduling services of remembrance or “Blue Christmas” worship services. Events like these, where the impact of loss is acknowledged, can help ease feelings of isolation and being ‘set apart’ by our grief.
Individual Resources. Realizing that these surges of grief are temporary can help us ride the wave of these emotions back to shore. Remember the times when you have experienced strong waves of grief and remember that they passed. Another resource is the ability to reach out to friends with a phone call.
Resources of Friendship and Family. Sometimes we think that not talking about our loss can help ease painful feelings. It might feel counterintuitive to us but remembering loved ones and sharing memories and stories of those we’ve lost can be a source of comfort and connection.
Changing Plans (or not). Sometimes changing rituals and holiday traditions can help us move through sudden upswells of grief. Other times, keeping things the same feels like a better decision. Knowing that things will be different from the past is what is most important.
Finally, a word for those who are not experiencing the impact of our losses at this moment. Let’s take a moment and bring to mind someone who may be experiencing difficulty this time of year. A card or note or even phone message could be a real help for someone who might be struggling and will let them know that we’re all in this together.
About Wanda Sevey, MDiv, LMFT
Wanda Sevey, MDiv, LMFT, is a licensed couples and family therapist in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In addition to working with couples in counseling, she has been involved in couples education for 15 years.