“What’re you mean you’re not coming over for dinner during the holidays”??? Whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Hanukkah or St. Lucia day for that matter, do you ever feel an obligation to share holidays with family? That or suffer the wrath of what I call guilt trip syndrome from mom! Okay, I’ll admit there’s no guilt trippin’ this girl into anything revolving around holidays! Decorations, music, bright lights and snow, family gatherings, New Year’s – I love every bit of it, shared with the right person(s) or loved ones that is.
Unfortunately, it could mean we’re setting ourselves up for something other than a fun-loving, fun-filled, peaceful time – some feel stress, loneliness and constant worry. Some are grieving. “Be happy” they tell you, but all you can think about is that piercing, heart wrenching sense of loss that’s experienced when longing for the people in your life that are no longer here. Ugh! Grief and depression!
For the record, grief is not a “disorder” normally requiring any form of treatment; major depression on the other hand is, and does. The two constructs of normal grief and major depression are a source of continued controversy. Disentangling the two in trying to decide where to draw the line when comparing their differences is no easy task for clinicians let alone the lay person.
Holidays are typically shared with people we love most, usually, it’s a fun-filled celebration. How then can anyone be expected to enjoy and cope after losing a loved one? Holidays represent a multitude of collective memories made over the course of our lifetime, somehow special occasions only magnify our losses so is it any wonder why our celebratory qualities exit stage left?
Depression is debilitating and crippling to say the least, yet, with the gateway of information available right at our fingertips we continue to struggle in eliminating the stigma that comes with it. Depression and stigma go together like a romantic couple that can’t keep their hands off each other! One that would have Romeo and Juliet feeling envious. Stigmatization , commonly classified as a normal part of human condition, faced with the unknown our natural response is one of “fight or flight”.
Consequently, the outcome of the “fight or flight” response can enable one to make irrational decisions which in turn can lead to general assumptions. We begin to fill in the blanks with information which we do not actually know are factual – these presumptions, based on earlier stereotypes become harmful in that it can prevent one from receiving much needed support and/or medical intervention.
We have all grieved at some point in our lives and can relate to others, however, like depression, grief may last for months and in some cases, years. Depression often involves a general pervasive sadness and a lack of interest in formerly pleasurable activities; a person will usually obsess over past failures and/or misdeeds. Grief stricken people tend to react to loss that can transform them with the focus being primarily on the following set of factors:
- the death of a loved one was either unexpected, sudden, traumatic, violent, or random
- the death was from a prolonged illness such as Alzheimer’s disease or cancer
- the loss was of a child
- the bereaved believed the death could have been prevented
- the relationship with the deceased person was overly dependent, angry, or ambivalent
- the bereaved was suffering from an illness that coincided with the death of the loved one
- the mourner suffered more than one loss within a short period of time
- the mourner lacks social support
Undoubtedly, while people are celebrating and enjoying a holiday event, the presumption is that everyone is feeling happy. It almost forces the person who is grieving to believe that they too must to feel the same way thus having to put on a happy face – STOP! Be true to yourself and honest about how you’re feeling, you might be surprised at how supportive people are when you tell them the truth.
There’s a saying that comes to mind “you need to feel it to heal it”, I know first-hand that trying to bury our emotions can do far more harm than if we actually allowed ourselves to work through the pain at our own pace. After all, is it the grief we’re trying to avoid or the gut wrenching pain? There’s no time limit on grieving, if you believe there is then dare I suggest you have no heart, or perhaps you never suffered the loss of a loved one.
Other than the loss of a child, there are few things in life that will ever affect one more deeply than the death of a sibling or parent. Afterward, you most certainly will contend with an array of emotions that you quite possibly have never experienced before as I did the day my dad passed away – a day I’d prefer to forget and in a way, I did. The pain was so deep and intense that my body felt as though it was actually shutting down upon hearing those four tragic words “he didn’t make it”.
In fact, to this very day, I have not fully regained my memory of the events that transpired after the moment I entered the hospital room, the room where my dad was laying on a bed – motionless. In that split second I began to experience nothing short of absolute heartache coupled with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. There wasn’t anything I could do – Nothing! I wouldn’t be able to bring my dad home ever again.
My mind was crazy glued on that one thought for what seemed like hours, that is, until another reality hit me like a ton of bricks. This would be my last opportunity, my last chance to hold my dad’s hand, to give him one last kiss and to dig very deep inside myself to muster up what little strength I had left to get the words out that I dreaded most “goodbye daddy”. It was unbearable and one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I have no memory of how I got home that day and my recollection of the funeral? I barely remember being present. It was my body’s way of protecting me, so I keep telling myself.
I’ve been asked multiple times if one ever recovers from that type of pain, as though my response might help them through their own personal grief. I’m still not sure how to answer that question except to say that eventually, we approach a stage in the grieving process known as faded or “attenuated” grief – during which time one feels a sense of adjustment whereby you can function without feeling the tremendous agony you might have felt initially. Each person deals with grief differently leaving their own personal fingerprint behind about how they cope – there is no right or wrong way, only YOUR WAY.
Losing someone you love is never easy, no matter the circumstance or what segment of time in your life the loss has taken place. When holidays roll around, it is always a painful reminder of the emptiness we feel in our hearts. Try to remember that your connection to your loved one is never broken because of death and its okay to keep their memory alive.
Perhaps it’s during the attenuated grief stage that I was finally comfortable talking openly about the loss of my dad and all the pain that came with it. Somehow it became easier to express the wonderful qualities he had, what they meant to me and how he enriched my life. Honoring someone’s memory shouldn’t be limited to holidays and aren’t reserved for special occasions either. If you are able to find a healthy coping mechanism to help ease the grieving process even if ever so slightly, don’t be afraid to do whatever it takes, and always keep in mind it’s what feels right to YOU!
What helps me through my favorite holiday is decorating the Christmas tree. It’s a special time dedicated to the memory of my dad. There were a few occasions in the last years of his life where he would sit and watch while I fussed in exaggerated frustration to make sure the lights were “just right”. Of course what followed was my dad’s untimely and sporadic outbursts of hysterical laughing coming directly from behind me – I couldn’t help but jump right in and laugh right along with him. It always puts a big smile on my face when thinking about such precious moments – it makes me feel as though he’s right there with me.
I gotta wonder though…what would my dad be saying at my taking that swig (or two, or three) of good old Johnnie Walker to counter all the anxiety precipitated by the entire “lights just right” fiasco? 😉
In loving memory of those who we’ve loved and have lost, but who are forever in our hearts.
“Where a beautiful soul has travelled, beautiful memories remain forever”.
ONLINE GRIEF SUPPORT ORGANIZATION PROVIDING RESOURCES AND SERVICES FOR AND BY PEOPLE GRIEVING.