Grieving and Holiday Blues
  Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D.

Psychologist Therese Rando has written an excellent book on grief recovery, How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies.  The title of the book is really the question that all survivors ask themselves, "How do I go on living when the person I loved has died?"  This question becomes even more poignant during the holidays.  If you have unresolved grief issues, you may be right now asking yourself, "How do I cope with holidays (or holiday blues).  I thought I was done with the mourning."  Holidays are notorious for reactivating the grief.

For some, these may be the first holidays after the loss of their loved one and they may still be struggling with the more basic question of how to heal and start living.  Holidays make the pain and the pining for the lost one more acute than ever.  

Evita Kramp and Douglas Kramps in their book, Living With The End In Mind, deliver a powerful message that we all can apply in our lives, "To live life to the fullest, you have to embrace your mortality."  When we learn to overcome the fear of our own death, we can deal with our loss with less fear.  When we learn to look into our fear and pain, we can cope better with holidays in spite of the fact that holidays remind us of our loss.  
Accept your life for what it is now.  Take responsibility for your happiness.  Only you can find your way to happiness.  Nobody has the map to your heart but you.  Only you can make yourself happy again.  Perhaps you are someone who is asking right now, as I write this article, "What about others?"  The fact is that nobody else can make you happy without your consent and cooperation.  

In the next few days, write a letter or express in someway to your loved ones how much they mean to you.  Tell them how important they are to you.  Forgive yourself and others.  Give to others what you can in some form or fashion.  It is not so much what you do for others, as it is that you have broken the shell around yourself and you are willing to reach out to others.  

Make a "Book of Memories' of your lost loved one including the pictures, conversations, and other memorabilia.  Include in the book the favorite sayings, expressions, and events that you want to capture forever. 

Join an organization that that offers social activities and get-togethers around holidays.  Many organizations do special charitable projects around holidays.  Realize that you don't have to sit at the front desk and answer telephones, you can volunteer for inside work.  If you don't yet feel ready to "face the crowd," select a project that you can do on your own or with just one or two other volunteers.  

Accept the care, concern or attention from others graciously.  If it appears that they want to help you, let them know how they can do that.  Remember the times when you wanted to help someone you cared about and how much you wanted him or her to let you help.  
Understand the changes that happen with friends and your extended family when a partner or other family member is gone.  Seek the support you need to adjust to those changes. Set short-term and long-term goals for yourself.  

Loss of a loved one invariably brings to some type of conversation with God.  Holidays are special spiritual times.  Include spiritual advancement as one of the goals that you set out for yourself.   

Develop a new relationship with the lost loved one.  Death is only the termination of the old relationship.  It is time for a new relationship, a relationship that is based on acceptance that now it will be in the heart and not in the physical form.  Perhaps you can work on an idea, a goal, or a value that was dear to your loved one.  

You don't have to forget the lost loved one, if that's what you are troubled with.  The new relationship is based on memories, not on oblivion.  Form a healthy relationship with the deceased—one that is based on the satisfying mutual times, the shared values, and the strengths that you derive from your relationship even today.  

Engage in some form of physical activity.  Light aerobic exercise is one of the best means to lift the spirits.  Some delay their grief recovery by telling themselves, "I will exercise when I get back to feeling my old self again."  Light physical exercise such as walking, jogging, joining the Y will help you to do just that.  

Watch your physical health.  Keep your doctor's appointments.  Plan ahead for the  holidays.  Perhaps, you will be meeting some people that you haven't met after the loss.  Don't avoid them.  Practice communicating your loss in a forthright manner.  

Survivors often wonder, "How can I be happy one day and sad the next?"  L. Smedes said it the best, "How can it be alright when everything is all wrong."  Recovery after someone you love dies is like a sunny patch in a clouded sky.  After some time, clouds recede and the sunny patch begins to widen.  Then again, the clouds may take over momentarily.  One day you surprise yourself by laughing over a joke or a child's antics.  Then you know you are again taking control.    

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