Solitary Holiday Part 2: Grieving for Introverts
How can you celebrate Christmas when all you feel is pain?
Your prescription for a balanced 2020 holiday season:
Every day you will:
Respect your own physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual needs.
Honor and/or connect with your loved one who died.
Grieving alone can be rough.
Grieving alone during the winter holiday season is rougher.
Grieving alone during the holidays, during a pandemic? Well, that is next-level challenging.
In last month’s blog, I talked about balancing alone and social time when you are grieving during the holidays. This month, we continue the theme of balance, as we look at practical ways for managing your grief this time of year.
Grief is not an all-or-nothing experience. You have probably already noticed the wide range of emotions that change almost hourly. How can you find balance to reduce that “roller coaster” feeling? Some of these are going to sound a bit wacky, but sometimes we need to try something different in order to change up our usual responses.
You might prefer to curl up on the couch and pull a blanket over your head. Would you consider trying something a little different this month?
Do you ever feel like you are betraying your loved one who died if you find yourself smiling or laughing, even for a moment? Deep down, you know your loved one would want you to learn to enjoy your life once again. But on some days, the very idea of renewed hope sounds disloyal.
Balance your emotions
Would you say your emotions are “all over the place”? Grieving is often a wild ride of ups and downs. Even though it is not comfortable, I recommend that you sink into the extremes, with assurance that they are only temporary.
Copious crying: On your next “down day,” allow yourself to cry as loudly and dramatically as possible, and for as long as the tears keep flowing. Most folks want to avoid this exercise, but typically you will feel so much better after letting the floodgates open.
Believe it or not, it takes more energy to suppress the tears, than it does to just allow them to come as they may. So make the most of the alone time. Not a “crier”? Watch sappy movies, listen to your favorite Christmas carols at full volume, and sing your heart out. Then consider letting the tears flow.
Laughter is real medicine: Yes, grief includes times of laughter! You can Google the health benefits of regular laughter or you can take my word for it. Pull out the old home movies if you can find them. Tell silly stories about your loved one who died. Or just search YouTube for America’s Funniest Home Videos - yes that is still a thing! You might even find yourself laughing until you cry. ;)
Balance rest and movement
Grief is a physical experience. You might be noticing new aches and pains. You have less energy. Your body is not quite as strong at fighting off germs lately. It is not just your imagination: grief can actually weaken your immune system. One way to stay healthy: balance rest and movement!
Rest: Grief is exhausting! So take a nap. Seriously. When you are having a particularly tough day, stay in bed as long as your schedule allows. Your body is sending you the message that grief is draining your energy, so heed the warning. As long as you don’t end up staying in bed for days and days in a row, allow yourself to rest as much as possible.
*If your grief is so intense that you feel like you can't get out of bed, even after a few days of rest, call a grief therapist right away.
Movement: I did not use the word exercise, so you would keep reading. But you know where I am going with this and you already know why. Obviously, our bodies function better when we actually use our muscles. No, this does not require one hour on the elliptical machine or bench pressing 225lbs. But I strongly recommend you MOVE every day for at least 30 minutes.
Having trouble getting started? Get off the couch during a commercial: stand up, take a big breath in, and reach your arms overhead. Then slowly exhale as you swing your arms down to touch your knees (or ankles, whatever you can reach). Repeat this slowly five times. Your whole body will feel better: you will breathe easier, and your muscles and joints will feel less tense.
Balance giving and receiving
Jesus said it and research has proven it: it is better to give than receive. I actually think both are important. In order for some to give generously, someone else has to be willing to receive, right?
Receive: After a tragedy, folks always say something like “let me know how I can help.” I suggest that you have an answer ready, when someone says this to you. People want to help. Honest. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
Need someone to stop at the pharmacy for you? Do you have a package that needs to be dropped at the post office? Does your yard need to be raked before winter sets in? Ask a close friend or neighbor to help! If they truly can’t help, they will tell you so (don’t take it personally!) and you can ask someone else.
This step is hard for “independent minded” folks.
Don’t forget that everyone has times
of being the giver
and times of being the receiver.
Now it is your turn.
Give: There is no doubt that giving of yourself will improve your mood and benefit your community. This season, think about how you can make a small impact in a way that honors your loved one who died.
Make a donation to a charity in your loved one’s name. Think about what charitable cause would have the most meaning for them. If your loved one was an animal lover, find a local animal shelter. Explore the website and social media, send a personal note to the program director, thanking them for their work and explaining what prompted you to donate.
Even if your budget is tight this time of year, a very small donation makes a difference!
Even in grief, you can find balance:
an enduring connection to the past,
a peaceful present,
and a fulfilling future.
If your family is bugging you to “just stay busy,” you can tell them you already have a healthy plan for coping this month. Assure them that you are grieving in your own way. Share your intention for staying balanced this holiday season by including a little bit of everything: laughing, crying, resting, moving, giving, and receiving.
Wishing you peace and balance throughout the Christmas season!
Brought to you by:
Pam Kuras, MSW, LCSW, GC-C
Johnston Integrative Counseling, PLLC