It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year – Unless, of Course, It’s Not

December 16, 2021

The holiday season often injects pressure into our world. Sometimes the holiday season forces family time on us when we may not want or be ready for those interactions. Other times, the holiday season necessitates increased financial strain. What often feels hard throughout the holidays is the lack of space to talk about how difficult things can feel, the pressure to be jolly and bright no matter what is happening in our lives, and the constant need to swallow feelings of grief that may arise.

Grief is something we often try to ignore. We are taught that grief is linear. There are “stages” of grief that we move through, and once we reach the “acceptance” stage, these feelings should not surface again, at least not as intensely as we first experienced them. But, when events like holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries happen, our intense feelings of grief can return. These events are reminders of our loss. They reinforce the absence from which we’ve begun to heal, and to celebrate without our lost loved ones can often feel wrong. When significant events spark feelings of grief, we aren’t ready to feel their intensity. They catch us by surprise, and we feel unprepared. We think we’ve already mourned our loved ones. It’s too painful to do again. We pretend these feelings aren’t there, and we try (I’d imagine unsuccessfully) to throw ourselves into the distraction of holiday cheer.

So, how can you deal with feelings of grief when they arise? What do you do? Allowing yourself to feel the intensity of your grief is the first step to mourning during the holidays. What does “feeling your feelings” look like? Well, you can do several things, including:

  • Share your feelings of grief with others. Grief can often feel isolating and lonely. If you have intense emotions during the holiday season, work to identify them and share them with your people. Support goes a long way in helping us to navigate intense feelings and in breaking down barriers that we put up.
  • Remember your loved ones. Talk about your loved one as much as you can, share the traditions they started, celebrate the parts of the holidays they loved. Give yourself and others permission to feel their presence.  
  • Start a new tradition. With your family and friends, create new practices that center around mourning. Whether that means saying a prayer for your loved ones all together, leaving their stocking up and putting a note in it every year, or lighting a candle in their honor- make their memory a concrete tradition that doesn’t get overlooked. Bring remembering your loved ones into the forefront of your new holiday space.

More than anything, the most helpful thing you can do for yourself as you feel intense feelings of grief is to give yourself the space to mourn your loved ones. It’s okay that things that are supposed to be joyful aren’t as joyful for you anymore, and things can look different than how they used to. Alleviating the pressures of the holidays by offering yourself grace, is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.

Kathy Klein, M.S.Ed., MSW, LSW is a Staff Therapist at our Center City and University City Offices; she currently sees clients via online therapy. To set-up an appointment, you can reach her at kklein@councilforrelationships.org or 215-382-6680 ext. 7022.

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