Coping with Grief & Loss this Holiday Season
By Liz Beattie, Registered Clinical Counsellor
This past year, the world has been through such an abrupt transition, bringing so much grief and loss, especially for those who are marginalized. Everyone has their own story of how the pandemic has impacted them, each with a unique path of grief and loss, involving many emotions that ebb and flow. As we enter the holiday season, we need to take extra care of ourselves and each other. The programs at Learning Through Loss often include the following coping strategies, and although my examples might not fit for everyone (especially depending on different biopsychosocial factors), I thought I would share how they have resonated for me.
Grounding: Connecting with the body and present when thoughts and feelings are too overwhelming.
In the spring, I was in the middle of a big move and struggled with the loss of our old home/community and stress/fear re: the pandemic; as a mom of two young kids, I needed to find a way to feel grounded. Breathing, exercise, and connecting with my body and senses has helped me regulate my nervous system/cope with anxiety and stress. One of my favourite grounding exercises is called 5-4-3-2-1: naming/noticing things I see, hear, feel, smell, and taste. I also find it helpful to have a comfort item nearby (for me, it is peppermint essential oil).
Distraction: Focusing on something else.
It is okay and important to feel all emotions as they come and go, but sometimes we just need a break. I try to play guitar, listen to music, make jewelry, call family/friends, watch a funny show, or draw with my kids.
Emotional release: Letting out our emotions.
In March, I lost one of my dear Grandmothers, who died at the age of 99. Due to travel restrictions, I couldn’t go to England for her funeral. There was a webcast at the crematorium, so I logged on in the middle of the night, lit a candle, played the music she loved, and cried – this was a really meaningful part of my mourning. Other times, I have also needed to express humour. In her 90’s, when Grandma disliked food at my Uncle’s, she would secretly feed the dog under the table. I recently caught my 3-year old doing this, and later had a good laugh.
Thought challenge: Challenging unhelpful thoughts; practicing mindful self-compassion and acceptance.
When I feel too anxious/uneasy, I notice my thoughts tend to be filled with fear/uncertainty about the future or guilt/regret about the past. It can be hard to shift my thinking, so I sometimes use apps to remind me of quotes, positive affirmations, or mantras.
Self-care: Taking care of ourselves.
This can be hard at the best of times, but these days some of our usual self-care activities/routines are not always possible – a loss in itself. Here are a few things I can still do: watch Christmas movies, play guitar, sit by the ocean, go for walks/runs, catch up on laundry, eat nutritious food, journal, or have a cup of tea. A big piece of self-care involves connecting with others, which is so hard right now. Maintaining social bonds and connections might include daily video chats with friends or joining an online bereavement support group.
Caring for others: Helping others can fill us up, bringing a greater sense of purpose and value.
In the summer, my Grandpa spent 2 months in hospital after a fall. He could only have one weekly visitor and was recently moved to long-term care – he lost connection with loved ones and my Nan lost her partner. Our vulnerable elders are experiencing so much loneliness and isolation. When I call my Nan to say hello, she lights up, reminding me how far simple gestures go. Over the holidays, I hope to think of some creative, safe ways to send love and comfort to my grandparents.
Connecting to something larger: Connecting with something bigger than ourselves, such as nature, rituals, prayers, or spiritually inspiring books/music.
After my Grandma’s death, I created a daily ritual of sitting near my favourite photo of her, lighting a candle, and spending a few moments saying a prayer.
Each person has their own inner wisdom, strength and resources to draw from, but I hope one or more of these strategies might help bring some extra peace this holiday season.
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