“That is a brilliant idea!” You have said this yourself or heard others say it. I think I have a brilliant idea for you. Are you facing down the long shadowy hallway of the holidays? Possibly you are attempting with all your might to ignore it. But this could be one of your defining grief moments. I understand that we have limited energy and creativity. I know the extra expectations of the holidays can be overwhelming. I know many of us would rather curl up in bed and stay there until the “celebrations” have ended. How absurd to even think of participating in any holiday recognition! Possibly by connecting the dots of our grief-life with action plans for special holiday moments, we can find purpose even amid a difficult time of the year.
3 Phases of Grief
Since working with other grievers as well as evaluating my own grief experiences, I have come to conclude there are 3 natural phases of grief. Early- Grief. Mid-Grief. Late-Grief. These phases don’t know an exact time line, but they transition when intentional healthy grief is taking place.
Early-Grief is when we are left with such massive changes in our lives that we are overwhelmed. The loss consumes us. We often lose our appetite, our mental capacity to focus, and sometimes even the will to keep living. We feel, but find ourselves detached from social connection, almost as if we are viewing ourselves from a distance. Tears may come at unplanned times, or worse yet, we find it impossible to cry. As we intentionally feel the feelings, engage with the reality of loss and begin to practice healthy self-care habits, we begin to transition. Early grief can last as much as 6 to several years. It really all depends if we are being intentional to grieve well or not.
The Middle-Grief phase finds us functioning a little better. Others looking in begin to think, “they are getting over it!” But we are not. We manage our exterior lives a bit better, but inwardly, we are feeling deeper pain. It is like the pain from a burn to the skin that keeps penetrating. We can find ourselves stuck in anger, depression, or despair. We might also begin to experiment with distracting ourselves, so we don’t have to deal with the pain. This is why it is all the more important to choose healthy grief options. We need to stay attentive to our loss and the long-term impact. Be gentle, understanding and nurture ourselves. Acknowledge the sorrow and loss, anger, despair, and tendency to isolate. We need to be purposeful about interacting with others who are emotionally safe. Choose to exercise and eat the healthiest we can to support our body as it supports our emotional wellbeing. Middle-Grief can last for months or even years, depending on how intentional we are to grieve well.
Late-Grief is the awkward transition of knowing we will best honor our deceased loved one by living a full and productive life. It is full of uncertainty and the excitement of our potential that is rising out of the ashes. Late-Grief feels like we are handling our loss story with meaning. We see hope and a future. We taste the flavor of food again and find joy in simple pleasures. We know that love will never died for the one we no longer have with us. We also know that new relationships, friendships, places to see and go are not a denial of our loved one. Late-Grief can begin as early as 13 months after the death or whenever we have come to healing for Middle-Grief.
Back to A Defining Moment
I am so glad you are still reading this and hope you have the notion to share it with a few friends before you get done. Just how does this holiday create a defining moment for you? Let me tell you. As a grief coach, I assist my clients in creating plans for every event on the calendar that they would otherwise wish to skip over. By planning for the day or season, they discover their own wishes and dreams for reflecting, remembering, and honoring, in their absence, the one they love so much. Therefore, whatever phase of grief you are experiencing, or whatever plan you choose will define the healing direction in your grief.
Preparing for the holidays produces a profoundly better option than not planning.
I am sharing just 4 samples of planned activities you can consider. Please keep in mind where you are in your grief experiences: Early, Mid, or Late Grief. If you can find your voice, use your words to tell others what is meaningful for you. I hope there is someone in your family or circle of friends you can share an idea or two that would help you manage the holiday better. I hope they will be supportive to help bring your plans into action.
Regrets to Flames
Henry Havelock Ellis said, “All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” In addition to the memories and traditions you keep with you, you may also be holding onto things like regret, guilt, and feelings of resentment. Start a holiday tradition of lighting a fire, writing down your regrets from the past year, and then throwing your regrets into the fire to symbolize the power of God’s thorough forgiveness.
Leave a box, slips of paper, and pens in a prominent place. Ask friends and family to write down their favorite holiday memories, memories of loved ones, or gratitude for them. Ask them to put their slips in the box and read them over dessert. If you feel as though your family has had an especially tough year, writing down general gratitudes might help the rays of light to be noticed and encourage one another.
Well, not exactly a booth, but I think you get the idea. You, your friends, and family might enjoy a special corner of the house that has photo albums stacked high for the perusing. Possibly you have a video that was used at the memorial you want to watch. Maybe other family videos could run on a loop for the viewing. Or maybe a collection of framed pictures have been displayed so anyone could just sit and remember your loved one. Their physical absence should never suggest our memories have failed. By remembering, we grieve well.
Doing something new or different is another option for preparing for the holidays. Include family and friends to join you in going somewhere new, gather the family at a different location, volunteer at a local charity throughout the holiday season, attend a different church service, or select a new menu and try out new recipes. Covid might make this more difficult than at other times. However, doing new and different things allows space for our grief to take a little vacation, even if we find ourselves missing our loved one because we know they would have loved this new activity.
Please keep in mind that during your seasons of adjusting to life without your loved one, nothing is permanent. If what you planned didn’t work as you had hoped, you don’t need to do it again, or you can find ways to make it work better next year. The encouragement I want to leave you with is that you have control over how you wish to involve yourself with every holiday season in what ever grief phase you are in. You are free to mix it up, change, or add new dimensions to what creates a meaningful holiday for you, your family and friends. This is your defining moment.