The holidays are always stressful. Always. But, that stress generally pays off with special gatherings, joyful present giving and tasty food.
But when you are grieving all of this can just seem grey and tasteless. There isn’t a payoff for the anxiety and in fact, there might be a whole lot more anxiety.
Bottom line – if you’re actively grieving – the holidays are going to feel very different.
This is normal – and awful.
Boundaries are so important when we are in pain. The way I see it, there are 2 things to build boundaries around here: You and your Grief. I think looking at them separately can help us acknowledge the different needs that both may have. The experience of bereavement is filled with so many paradoxes and upside-down sensations that it feels like there are always conflicting needs and it’s hard to really give yourself what you crave.
Hopefully, we can clean up some of those complexities here.
Below is a list of just a few of the issues you might be anticipating with the upcoming holidays.
– Grief is already a factor but now on top of that we may have –
- Guilt – being sad at a “happy” time of year is hard and it’s easy to feel apologetic. Don’t apologize for your grief – it’s not bad – it is a very important part of your life.
- Regret – life has forever changed the way we celebrate and experience the holidays
- Shame – maybe you feel like you haven’t “moved on” enough – the idea of “moving on” is sort of a bad word around here. We don’t “move on” we “move with” and that journey changes you forever.
- Sad about being sad – this might sound silly, but it’s real. Sorrow has a time and place, we know that, but when it overlaps with the holidays, it can feel very unfair.
- Energy limitations – we just don’t have the capacity to do as much and that can be frustrating.
- Anxiety – can hit from so many angles. It’s already a very American thing to be anxious going into holiday preparations, but these anxieties are likely new and/or amplified to a level that requires care for yourself and thoughtful consideration.
So, to navigate all of the above and more, we need to carefully construct boundaries around You and Grief.
Let’s start with You.
Setting Boundaries around Yourself:
- Be honest. Let people know how you are doing and what will be reasonable to expect of you.
- Set time limits. If you feel you can only do 1 or 2 hours at an all-day family gathering, let the host know in advance. You can say something like,
- “These gatherings are so special but I’m worried they will also be painful this year. I’m planning to only stay for an hour. Thank you for understanding.” This makes it possible for you to have control over your needs, assess, and if you wanted to stay longer, you could. But if you need to leave, you’re also understood.
- Don’t go. If it’s too much, give yourself the permission to not go. It really is ok. People will miss you, they will wonder if you’re ok and you know what – you’re not. You are experiencing a massive life shift and if you need to do that privately, then give that to yourself.
Setting Boundaries around your Grief:
- Allow it. Let your grief be there. Don’t deny or ignore it. Begin, if you can to make peace with it’s presence, even if you can’t make peace with the reason for it.
- Create a place for it. Some people set an empty seat at the table for their loved one. Others light candles, set out special pictures, or give a toast in honor of your loved one’s memory. If you don’t feel up to giving the toast or saying a few words, maybe ask a trusted friend to lead the ritual for you.
- Don’t give grief everything. Don’t let grief take more from you then it already has. If you want to be out with family and friends – GO. Just because you are grieving doesn’t mean you have to be absent or sad all the time. You will know when you need to withdraw and you will know when you want to engage. Trust that instinct – it might change suddenly so know that – but don’t suffer more for the sake of grief.
All of these boundaries require a level of self-awareness. It is important for you to continuously check-in on yourself and how you are doing. Just taking 5 minutes to ask questions like, “Am I tired? Am I over-doing it? Am I stuck? Am I ready for more?” can be so helpful in this process.
Lastly, I just want you to know how sorry I am that you are going through this right now. This year has been so unusually cruel and to have grief on top of it all seems so unfair to me. I hope that by preparing yourself, making some kind of plan, and noticing what you need will be helpful ways that allow you to have a meaningful holiday season.