Grief is the price we pay for love. – Queen Elizabeth II
For those who have experienced the death of a loved one, whether within the last week or within the last year or even within their lifetime, the holiday season can feel particularly painful. Amidst all the light and joy and good tidings that December brings, the loss of a father, mother, child, significant other, family member or friend feels greatly magnified.
Indeed, grief does not take a vacation, and the holidays are no exception. For most of us who are grieving, the “joy” of the holidays has the opposite effect – it makes us even sadder that our loved ones are no longer with us.
I know so many people who have lost loved ones these past few years. I have watched their struggles as they try to comprehend the incomprehensible – to wrap their heads around loss that leaves huge holes in their souls. To try to handle the inconceivable emptiness that comes from knowing they will never hear their loved ones’ voice again, never feel their arms around them, never again share a meal … a phone call … a laugh, never again be able to look in their eyes, to touch their hair, to see their smile.
I have had too many losses over the years … and they just keep coming. The day after Thanksgiving, one of my dear friends from college died unexpectedly of a heart attack. We worked on the university paper in the late 1970s, and now he is gone.
As a self-professed expert on grief and loss, I have three observations as we move through the holiday season and into 2016.
1. Grieving is essential
In order to cope with the pain of a loved one’s death, you need to give yourself permission to grieve. It is such a huge loss, and simply burying the feelings that accompany a death will not make you feel any better in the long run. It took me several weeks to be able to function after my sister died. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than five minutes at a time. Instead of trying to “get back to normal,” I let myself grieve the loss, which eventually helped me start working and smiling and laughing again. And I strongly suggest a grief counselor – it is a good short-term investment for a healthier long-term outcome.
2. Grieving is a process, with no artificial deadlines
It never ceases to amaze me when I hear that someone who has lost a loved one “should be over it already.” Some people need only a few weeks to grieve … and others need a lifetime. My mother died 45 years ago and I STILL find myself grieving at the oddest moments. The pain may be muted but the loss is still a reality. So don’t give yourself a grieving deadline. Just know it is a process that is different for everyone.
3. It is vital to learn how to navigate a new normal
Coping with loss is so difficult. I believe the key is learning how to navigate a new normal. The holidays will never be the same for me, but I have learned to navigate a new normal and continue to find joy in the season. I miss my mother, father, sister and brother so much, but I’ve learn to navigate a life that honors their memory and soothes my heart while finding the beauty in each day. Learning to navigate a new normal takes time and courage, but it is worthwhile: it not only honors your loved one’s memory but makes YOUR life worth living.
Grief does not take a holiday. But we certainly can respect the process. And realize that grief is the price we pay for love, and love is what makes life so wonderfully sweet.
Dr. Lori Baker-Schena is the founder and chief executive officer of Baker Schena Communications, a firm dedicated to “Unleashing Your Potential Through the Power of Words.” We offer motivational speaking, leadership consulting and medical writing services. Find us at www.loribakerschena.com