Dealing with Loss During the Holidays
The subject of death has popped up once again this holiday season. My husband’s aunt is very ill and is not expected to make it much longer. His grandmother passed away a few years ago in December. My good friend’s mother passed away ON Christmas Day several years ago. It seems like LOTS of people in my orbit have lost loved ones during the holidays, and it tends to put a wet blanket on this time of good cheer.
I was so curious about what seems like a trend, I looked up some statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the highest death rates in the US occur in the months of December, January and March. Common sense and a bit of research tells me that suicide rates are higher during the winter months and people do tend to come down with illnesses more frequently because we are all inside together to keep warm. Because of this, bacteria and viruses spread easily (which is why it is important to wash your hands frequently). And if someone is already ill with a disease such as cancer, opportunistic infections are more easily caught because that person is exposed to more people who may be sick (and not even know it yet).
Even if your lost loved one didn’t pass away during the holidays, the season can be tough because that person is simply no longer in your life. This is especially hard if you have lost a close family member or friend who would have normally celebrated the season with you. His or her absence can seem to fill the room.
It’s human to miss those we’ve lost. However, we don’t have to let our grief ruin the joy of the present. If you’re feeling down or depressed thinking about someone you’ve lost, try some of these techniques/coping tools:
- Vividly imagine a good moment with the person you’ve lost. Notice the sights, smells, temperature, and good feelings of that past moment. When you’re filled with those good feelings, bring your attention back to the present and bring those positive emotions with you. I’d guess that your loved one would want you to feel good this season!
- Honor the life of your lost loved one in some way. Make an ornament in his/her honor to hang on your tree. Write a card to that person, telling him/her what positive things they brought to your life and how you continue to value those things. Light a candle in celebration of him/her. Create a shrine to his/her life and write down the wonderful things about that person. Write a message to him/her, put it in a helium balloon and let it fly to the heavens.
- Connect with the person you have lost in meditation. You don’t have to believe in “spirits” to do this. Sit quietly and breathe for a while until you are focused on your breath and it is slow and deep. Picture your loved one’s face in detail. Picture your face near your loved one’s face. Tell him/her that you miss him. Tell her that you are grateful for having had her in your life. Then listen. Let your loved one tell you wonderful things about yourself. You’d be surprised how well this works!
- If you’re feeling depressed, go out amongst people. Isolating yourself will not help you feel better.
- If you are feeling suicidal, get help immediately! Go to the nearest emergency room if you have a real plan or contact a professional for help if you are not planning to do anything immediately or if you have suicidal thoughts with no plan.
Death is a natural part of life. Depending on your beliefs, the end of suffering for your loved one may bring you comfort. Or if the death was a result of a tragedy, perhaps remembering that your loved one is most likely in a peaceful place may help. The holidays call for a celebration of life – both for the living and the passed. May your holidays be peaceful and may you feel your lost loved ones smiling down on you, adding to your joy.