Anonymous Asks: How Do I Navigate Grief During the Holiday Season?
Grief advocate and best-selling author of Grief is Love, Marisa Renee Lee, answers an anonymous question about grief and mental health from our community.
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Marisa Renee Lee:
First of all, I am unfortunately no stranger to grief and how devastating losing your person can be, so I want to say that I’m so sorry for your loss. I also want you to know that you are not alone. You will probably look around and feel isolated because you’re not bounding toward the holidays like the rest of the world, but your feelings are perfectly normal, and not feeling “OK” is okay.
My mother was Queen of holidays—ESPECIALLY Christmas—and now that she’s no longer here with me, the holidays always come with a side of grief. My first tip for you would be to abandon any “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” attitude. That just will not work in these circumstances. You can be honest about all of your complex feelings, and there is no obligation to feel anything outside of what you’re ACTUALLY feeling, no matter how “Joy To The World” everything is.
My second piece of advice is to really sit down and be intentional about the boundaries you’re setting to protect your mental health. If you’re not up for hosting this year’s Thanksgiving feast, or you want to avoid going to Aunty Whomever’s Christmas Eve Extravaganza, that’s okay. I am giving you permission to order take-out and cozy up with The Real Housewives of Anywhere (or whatever works for you).
I also encourage you to be really intentional about care. Grief is more than a feeling; it can actually manifest as an attack on our bodies and brains in very specific ways. Research shows that the death of a loved one increases the occurrence of several psychiatric disorders, including major depressive episodes, panic disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder. There is also evidence for an increased occurrence of various manic episodes, phobias, alcohol use disorders, and generalized anxiety in the aftermath of death. So, in our grief, we must work really hard to identify ways to care for ourselves deeply. What you need may change from day to day; maybe you need to work out, maybe you need to book a massage, or perhaps you just need 15 minutes to hide from your child or your job and lie on the floor with your eyes closed. Check in with yourself often, find opportunities to take care of yourself, and then take them.
Lastly, speaking to our feeling of responsibility to uphold holiday traditions and make memories: It’s okay to have a holiday on your own terms. It sounds like this will be the first holiday season without your person. For some of us, it will be the second, the fifth, or the tenth. I will be honest: the holiday will probably never feel the same as it once did. Commit to holding compassion and empathy for yourself, and eventually, you will find your way to a holiday that brings you solace and ways to celebrate that also celebrate the legacy of the person you lost.