Dec 4 | 15 min read
Author: Erica Walecka
I had a plan to write a beautifully hopeful and thoughtful blog post about being kind to our bodies through the holidays, but then grief knocked on my door. I say that like it was polite, gently asking to be let in, but we all know it wasn’t. It was a forceful, abrupt and painful intrusion that shattered my well set intentions for the season. Being kind to my body has to look like acknowledging this unexpected guest.
2020 has been a year. We have all felt loss in some way this year, this global crisis has been incredibly personal in so many ways for each of us in the loss of normalcy, connection, school or work… even the most simple things have to feel different these days. Aside from pandemic related loss, life has continued along with the ups and downs of “normal” life. Grief has been the unwelcome companion throughout so much of what we’ve lived through this year.
And now we are in the middle of the holidays and everyone is trying so hard. We’ve seen the onslaught of “this isn’t the Thanksgiving I’m used to” posts, and we’ve tried to make traditions that feel meaningful even if the people we thought would be there aren’t. We’ve seen people put up holiday decorations earlier than normal because it brings a bit of joy into our lives. We’ve made plans to still have “normal” traditions through video chat and done our best to keep the magic alive for the little ones in our families. There seems to be an expectation to be joyful and festive, grateful and happy and yet there’s this heaviness that isn’t going away no matter how many lights we put up or cookies we bake. It might be hard to get there this year and that’s okay.
You have full permission to let this season be whatever you need it to be, even if that means not celebrating.
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”
Maybe you’ve closed your small business, the dream you’ve nurtured the last several years; Maybe you’ve lost a loved one and were unable to be with them because of the pandemic; maybe you’ve spent months learning virtually, missing your friends from school; maybe you’ve suffered pregnancy or infant child loss; maybe your marriage is ending or your children are moving out of the home; maybe you’ve lost a job, a home… Grief is love with no place to go.
If gratitude feels a long way off this year…
If joy and peace on earth feel foreign…
If hope, celebration, and light feel painful…
… I see you.
Grieving through the holidays can be so hard. I’d like to say I’m writing you the 5 simple steps to stop grieving and enjoy the festivities anyways, but the reality is, grief shows up at our door, demands to be let in and now she’s here, taking up space and settling in for the winter and no one knows how that’s going to go… so, here are the things I’m reminding myself. May they help you find the aching parts within you with gentle love.
- Grief is love. Let yourself be cracked open by the deep love you have for whatever it is that you’ve lost. Grief tells us that something mattered so profoundly that it physically hurts to lose it. Let yourself love. Tell the stories of that love. Tell the memories, the struggles, the hopes and dreams of that love.
- Grief needs boundaries. Despite moving in and changing the energy of your home, grief is a guest and if you don’t put shoes on the coffee table, neither should grief. Remember that while grief demands your attention, you are still you and you need regular food, movement, showers (or baths!). Maintaining a schedule (even if modified to include more space for gentleness) helps grief feel safe. You’re telling your body that you can continue to support it through these hard feelings.
- Grief needs gentleness. No one feels better when we shame ourselves to feel fewer feelings. So be gentle. Listen to yourself each day – each moment – to what you need. Would a scaled down holiday feel better than trying to put on a face of big joy? Would putting up decorations even though you’re not in the mood help you feel nurtured by your family traditions and rituals? Would a run through the park feel good? Or a walk instead? Or perhaps just a journal, blanket and tea in the back yard to get some sun? Do those things. Give yourself permission to rest and feel even if it means taking a step away from your to do list.
- Grief needs trust. I get it. Grief is scary and big and overwhelming because it’s not just a singular feeling, it’s all of them, abruptly and intrusively. And we don’t know what to do with them so we don’t trust it when grief storms in. We shut it down, avoid it, yell at it – anything to not feel it… Trust your body. Trust that you can feel the biggest losses and your body will not give up on you – it will help you through it. Trust that grief is telling you something you need to hear. Nurture it, whatever it is, with all the tenderness you can.
- Grief is hard. What we live through when we grieve is hard and pretending otherwise doesn’t help. Let that grief be as big as it needs to be and don’t apologize for it. Don’t diminish the importance of your heartache because it made you late to a phone call with a friend or interfered with completing a work assignment. You have lost something remarkable; you don’t have to pretend that life can just go on as normal.
- Grief will change you. It’s tempting to say “I just want to go back to normal” but to do that would mean undoing the love we felt for the things we lost. There is no going back, here. Only creating a life that can hold the grief we carry. With time and intention, you will get there.
- Grief is complicated. You do not have to grieve alone. You do not get brownie points for boldly surviving grief on an island unto yourself. Whether you call a loved one, hold your dog close or connect with a counselor, find someone to help you through. We heal in relationship, so find the relationships in which you can show up, grief in hand, and feel supported and loved.