Yes, that’s how I feel this time of year, and I don’t even feel bad saying it. As much as I try I just don’t see the holidays as the same joyous time as everyone else, and it is really challenging when you feel like you have a heart made of coal when everyone else is rocking a heart made of candy canes and sugar plums.
November marked the second anniversary since we lost my father, and since his death came right around Thanksgiving, the holidays that year and ever since have changed for us. That first year I refused to acknowledge the holiday, and I did not put up a tree or any decorations. The gifts I purchased were wrapped in paper that could pass for a birthday present. Last year, I kind of tried….I did the tree thing, baked a little bit, and still refused to send out Christmas cards or wrap in festive paper.
This year I am trying a little harder. I put up two gorgeous trees in my house; one a frosted pine that has all of the ornaments given to me by my parents over the years, and the other a glitter tree that is Kate-tastic with a capital K. Our mantle is decorated, and I will be baking like crazy in a few weeks. Wrapping…..well, let’s just say I found Christmas doughnut wrapping paper, so that’s the theme of this year. I ordered Christmas cards, and if I ever finish addressing them they will be in the mail. Im trying.
From the outside it seems as though I’m into the holiday this year, but don’t be deceived. I am actually struggling more this year than I did that first Christmas, and I’m not sure why I am stepping back in my grief journey. I was talking to some people in my grief support group about it and don’t know if it is because since my dad’s death I have lost both my grandmothers, one just a few months ago, and this entire time of year is laced with dates tied to their passings, funerals, or memorials, or if it is something else.
As I sit here and try to deal with my own grief I often think about how insensitive I was before my family suffered these losses. I remember giving friends grief when they told me they hated the holidays. I remember trying to push certain friends into partaking into holidays traditions with me, even when they made it clear they didn’t want to. I just couldn’t get that people could hate such a beautiful time of year.
Now here I am, one of those people. Nothing is worse than someone saying “Are you excited for the holidays?” and answering with “No”, then given either a dirty look or a hard time because of your answer. It’s also the time of year where there are parties and events going on constantly, and I struggle being able to go to any of them. To me, I am that Grinch in the group that doesn’t want to participate, and I am always afraid if I attend I will be the Debbie Downer in the group that will ruin the fun for everyone. It’s not a good feeling. And, unfortunately, I have many friends who have recently suffered significant losses that are joining me in the “Eff the holidays” club.
For those of you struggling this time of year, here are some things that I have found are somewhat helpful, at least to me:
1. Incorporate your loved one into the holiday in some way.
This is probably the hardest thing to do. For me, I struggle with family gatherings and the traditions we used to do because I sit there the entire time and can’t help but think about the empty chairs at the table and who is missing. And yes, I know that our loved ones are there with us in spirit, but that doesn’t make it easier. An important thing to do is decide what traditions you want to keep and what you want to change, then add a new tradition for your loved one(s).
Last year my mom and I learned about The White Envelope Project, and we decided to make that a new tradition in honor of my dad. I supported a pet rescue last year and will be doing the same this year, as my dad was a huge dog lover.
Every year my dad would request I make him a batch of anise pizzelles when I made the basic ones for the family. I continue to make him a batch now. I cried the entire time last year, and I guarantee I will this year, too, but making these cookies that he loved makes me feel a little comfort.
2. Try to maintain your usual routine.
For me, that includes getting in my workout every day, completing the basic business tasks that I do daily, and acting like the holidays are just another day. I need that routine to keep myself from falling into a deeper black hole. Doing things that make you feel normal will help.
3. Be honest with your family and friends.
It’s challenging for me sometimes to tell my friends the reasons why I don’t want to attend certain holiday functions. I know that just because I am dealing with grief doesn’t mean they are, but you need to open the lines of communication. Let others know you are needing support and a little extra love this time of year. There’s no shame in saying “I need help” or “I can’t do this” in relation to a certain event, and your loved ones will understand.
4. Connect with a grief support group online or in your area, or seek assistance from a counselor.
DO NOT feel weird about talking to someone about your feelings and issues this time of year, or any time of year to be honest. I do it regularly, and I have found a lot of comfort from individuals in these groups. Sometimes just talking to someone who has gone through the exact same thing you have gone through helps.
5. Do not feel guilty if you do something that brings you joy.
I’ve struggled with this one a lot…..how can I have a good time when a huge part of my heart is missing? Your loved ones want you to continue living life, so do things that may make a dark time a little lighter. Laughing and spending time with friends and family doesn’t mean you don’t miss them like crazy. I do my best to still talk about my dad if I am having a good time or hanging out with people who maybe didn’t know him because I feel like he is still a part of things if he is in the conversation here and there.
6. Always have an exit strategy.
One thing that has happened to me since losing my dad is that I have moments that hit me where I go into a complete emotional meltdown without warning. Sometimes a song comes on…..sometimes I just see something that reminds me of him and it hurts my heart….I never know. But when it happens, I need to get the hell out of dodge, and I need to get out fast. Since this happens a lot, especially this time of year, I always drive separate so I can make sure I’m not stuck where I am and can get home or out of the crowded area I’m in fast. Have a plan in case this is something you are experiencing. For me, it helps me feel as if I have a little control over those moments.
7. Minimize gifts.
I feel all too often people go overboard with the holidays. Do we really need ALL that stuff? I used to be one of those overboard people….I just loved buying and getting gifts. Ever since my dad’s death my thoughts have changed. I don’t need things. I just want to be around those I care about and spend as much time with them as possible. Things are just things……but people and memories….those are what matters. Focus on the important things instead of trying to one up someone else with a bigger, shinier, more expensive gift. In the grand scheme of life it won’t matter.
8. TRY not to eat/drink your feelings.
As someone who used to do this all the time, I know how tempting it can be. I’m not saying to not #treatyoself here and there, but don’t sit down in front of the cookie table and inhale dozens. It won’t help things, and you will end up feeling worse about it in the long run.
9. Volunteer and do good.
I feel good donating for The White Envelope project, but I also try to get involved volunteering or helping others in need. There are soup kitchens needing help with holiday meals for the homeless, people who don’t have jackets to wear during the cold, animals who need shelter, children who won’t have any gifts to open on Chrismas day….do something that can help them but also make you feel good.
10. Give yourself grace.
Not everything has to be perfect, you don’t have to have it all together, and it’s okay if you cry. Focus on the things and people who make you happy and can’t help you get through these challenging times.
And for those of you reading this who may ask things likes “Are you excited for the holidays?” or “Why don’t you like Christmas?” etc, think before you ask….and if you do ask, don’t give someone a hard time if they don’t answer how you think you should. And DON’T call us Grinches, Scrooges, Assholes, whatever…..we are doing our best to get through the holidays and not ruin yours.
Thinking of all of you who are doing your best to get through the holidays and sending you peace and comfort.