If your heart is sitting in a place of deep lament and grief this holiday season, you are not alone. No human on the planet has been a stranger to grief or hardship this year. How it has affected each of us is different, but all of us are walking through the holidays this year carrying heavy things.
Whether you’ve lost a loved one due to this horrible virus or you’ve lost your job and financial security; whether you’ve lost a piece of your health or whether you’ve lost autonomy and struggle to manage working from home while your children learn remotely; whether you’re grieving the loss of life as we knew it or whether you’re grieving the loss of relationships due to differences in religious beliefs, political values or social distancing differences — all of us are facing hardship and we must lean on one another.
As someone who is no stranger to hardship or grief, here are five things I believe could be helpful to implement in your life this season:
First, acknowledge and talk to your grief. This may seem unusual, or even a bit odd. At best, it’s bound to make you a bit uncomfortable. But one way to sit with your grief and allow yourself to feel the emotions your body is storing is to talk to your grief.
If you’re grieving a death or the loss of a relationship, speak as if you’re talking directly to that person. Communicate your pain and loss to them. If not (or even if you are) consider writing a letter, not about, but directly to your grief. Begin by addressing it, “Dear Grief …” and allow whatever comes next to flow freely.
Although this exercise may take some inner strength, it will help release emotions you may not realize your body is holding.
Second, manage good boundaries. Boundaries are something I talk about often in my work. This also is a topic that makes many people uncomfortable. Most of us weren’t taught to appreciate, much less practice, healthy boundaries. But healthy boundaries are an excellent way of protecting your physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health.
Boundaries may mean setting parameters around who you spend time with, how many holiday commitments you take on or how much money you spend on gifts this year. It may mean hard conversations with family regarding social distancing and what gathering does and does not look like for you in this unpredictable season.
Boundaries come in many shapes and forms, but if your heart is grieving, it would be wise for you to pull back a bit from what you would typically take on during this time of year and, instead, give your heart room to breathe and heal. You really don’t have to bake 10 different kinds of cookies and send out Christmas cards to everyone you’ve ever met and have all your gifts wrapped and delivered extra early and sign up for every gift exchange that comes your way.
“Saying ‘no’ is a basic boundary, and it is a healthy one if your soul is feeling overwhelmed by grief.”
Saying “no” is a basic boundary, and it is a healthy one if your soul is feeling overwhelmed by grief. Take on what brings you joy. Leave the rest for another year.
Third, prioritize self-care. This may seem like common sense, yet at the same time, self-care is what many of us are lacking in the most. We do all the work things, the family things, the kid things, the pet things, the house things, the other people things, and by the time we’re done with it all, we’re too exhausted for any of our things.
Prioritize self-care this season. Whatever brings you comfort and joy, do more of that. For me, it means spending time in nature; for you, it may be yoga or a walk on the beach or a hot bubble bath or a favorite movie or a blanket and a good book.
When your heart is grieving, simplifying life and tending to your heart is critical. Move self-care to the top of your list this season, and stop putting yourself last. No guilt. No shame. Give your soul room to breathe. Your family and loved ones will be glad you did.
Fourth, share your grief with another person. This may be one of the hardest to incorporate, because it requires being vulnerable with someone else about your pain. I encourage you to choose who you share with wisely. Ask them to sit with you in your pain (and not try to fix it). Then share with them what living with your particular grief is like.
There’s something powerful about sharing our burdens with another. It diffuses the power our pain seems to hold over us and instead creates a salve for our souls, leading us one step closer to healing. Pain doesn’t dissipate overnight, but sharing our grief with others allows us to be seen, heard and loved exactly as we are, where we are.
“Remember that grief has no rules.”
Fifth, remember that grief has no rules. A dear friend of mine lost her son to suicide just over a year ago. It was awful and heartbreaking in every way imaginable. In the weeks and months that followed, she began using the hashtag #griefhasnorules. This has become a beautiful reminder to me when I find myself in grief.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone grieves differently, in different timeframes, and in different ways. Don’t put restrictions or parameters on your grief. Give your heart the permission it needs to feel and grieve deeply. For only when you fully grieve the loss can you begin to fully heal.
If you are grieving this year, listen to your inner voice and do for yourself whatever it is that you need. Lean on and check in with one another. Practice these things I’ve listed here. And know that you are not alone, even when the dark feels darkest.
Amber Cantorna grew up in the deeply conservative evangelical culture of Focus on the Family and now lives in the Denver area with her wife, Clara. She is the author of Refocusing My Family and Unashamed: A Coming Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians. She is a musician, writer and speaker.