Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Nan Zastrow's 8 Steps to Tame the Holiday Blues

This article appeared in the November 2015 issue of one of my favorite grief support publications, GRIEF DIGEST MAGAZINE published by the dedicated people of Centering Corporation. Their motto:  "We give you support. We give you information. We give you hope." is a doorway to innumerable resources and sensitive support. I love that they even have gifts for grieving individuals: Because We Care- Care Packages. Need Spanish language grief resources? Centering Corporation is there for you and even carries a lovely sympathy card in Spanish.

Source: Oscar Murillo
A lot of people find the holiday season challenging. Traditions, extra gatherings and the expectations of

  • shopping and gift-giving, 
  • hospitality in a tidy, festive home, and
  • hours of baking and cooking
are a recipe for incredible pressure. Oh-- and if you are grieving, multiply that by one thousand. Nan Zastrow has been through it, and shares her strategies.

Taming the Holiday Blues   

 an essay by Nan Zastrow  

What can I do to help me through holiday blues during my difficult time?

Trust that the holiday blues are normal and they will pass. There isn't any single recipe that works for everyone and probably none that will cure the blues completely. But here are some ideas for taming the holiday blues that I've used in the past years to help my family and me.

Taming the "blues" #1: Cancel your expectations; traditions change. The pressure to be "happy" and "merry" over the holidays sometimes creates deeper sadness and loneliness. There are so many expectations to live up to--everyone's expectations but our own! Accept that it is difficult for family and friends to understand what and how you are feeling during this time. In most cases, it's not intentional. They want us to be happy like they are, and they think they are doing us a favor by enticing us to join in the merriment. It may be necessary to "ask for understanding and support."

Recognize that all family relationships change over time and so do traditions. So update your current situation to modify the traditions that will work for you. Your family and friends will also modify their holiday traditions at some time--and not necessarily because of the death of a loved one. You will see that as children grow and go off to college or get married, as parents and spouses die, family celebrations for most families change also. While this death in your life is the immediate source of your emptiness and grief, soothe your pain by accepting that changes are inevitable for many reasons.

Taming the "blues" #2:  Communicate, but stand your ground. You know you are feeling anxious about the pending holidays. You know what your fears are and what your potential problems will be. The rest of your family and friends don't know what you are thinking or feeling. If you clue them into your fears, they may try to understand the reason for your actions and decisions and it will be easier for them to accept. However, it's important to stand your ground. Sometimes, your family and friends will try to coerce you into doing something you aren't able to handle. If you feel very firmly that this wouldn't be good for you this year, simply say, "I'm sorry. Not this time (this year), but ask me again sometime."

Taming the "blues" #3:  Be socially flexible and escape. Don't make plans for social events and dinners too far in advance. But keep the option open to participate. Sometimes it's easier to say, "I'm not going to go to the church recital or to Grandma's for Christmas dinner," because you believe that it would be better to just be alone, but this isn't always true. Feel free to tell people that you are taking one day at a time, one hour at a time, or one event at a time. Most family and friends will respect your need to reserve a last-minute decision. Also, build in an escape. Drive your own car so when you are ready to leave, you can leave. Notify your host prior to coming, that you aren't certain how long you will stay. Prepare an excuse if you feel you need one to allow you to leave with no questions asked.

If you feel you really want to hold a social event in your own home over the holidays but aren't sure if you can "handle it," set limits. Invite guests, but give them a beginning and ending time such as 7:00-9:00 p.m. Ask someone you know well to be the "lead exiter" when it's time for company to leave. This will give others the hint that it's time to go, and it also gives them permission to leave without offending you.


This makes the event bearable because you can control whether you go and when you leave. There's no need to skip all of the holiday social events, but I can certainly attest to the fact that often emotions can get in the way. Remember, it's okay to be social; it's okay to laugh and have fun.

Taming the "blues" #4:  Decorate your heart first. If your heart tells you that decorating would be nice and would soothe the painful thoughts of the holidays, by all means decorate to your heart's content. If decorations and the thought of them scare you, don't put out any more decorations than your emotions will tolerate. In other words, do only what makes you feel good.

If a nativity instills the real meaning of Christmas, put it up. If a tree with keepsake ornaments is painful, forget the tree this year. I tortured myself the first year, but I felt I was making a sacrifice for my family. My daughter and Chad had received a keepsake ornament every year that was theme based. Jalane wanted to put the "kids" tree up; Gary thought it might be good for me. I did it, in private, and cried through every keepsake ornament I hung. Once the tree was decorated--a few days later--it was a source of loving memories.

I didn't hang stockings. I didn't send holiday cards. I didn't attend the usual church and social events. I didn't bake cookies. I struggled with buying simple gifts. I didn't watch the favorite holiday videos. I didn't put out my Santa collection, but I did add to my angel collection. These were some of my limitations and my sources of comfort.

Taming the "blues" #5:  Seek support, not sympathy. Rethink your attitudes about the holiday season and be honest with yourself. Are you rebelling because you are feeling sorry for yourself? Or are you truly feeling helpless, blue and a need for quiet, private time to sort out your thoughts? Or do you need someone to talk to, give you a hug or spend some time with you?

Sympathy will come automatically. How could anyone who cares about you not sympathize with the loss you are feeling? I don't believe for a moment that a loving human being can deny the evidence of pain and deliberately withhold comfort. Disarm your feeling of helplessness and use the feeling of sympathy to gain control. Ask for support. This is something everyone can relate to and rally around. People want to help, so tell them what they can do to help you.

If your blues are part of multiple past losses, and you are feeling the magnitude of loss, recognize that when you grieve wholly, you will be able to experience good feelings when you reminisce. You may feel a twinge of sadness, but the deep pain will recede.

Coping with and enjoying the holidays doesn't mean that you don't miss the person who was a special part of your life. Nor does it mean that you don't miss times the way they used to be. It means that you will continue to live after this difficult change. And you will honor the memory of your loved one in new ways.

Surround yourself with people who understand that the holidays may increase your grief and you need their loving support that honors your feelings and helps you express your grief as needed.

Taming the "blues" #6:  Forget words; find ritual. This is a lesson we learned repeatedly from Dr. Alan Wolfelt. Rituals can emphasize loving memories and give expression to feelings far beyond our vocabularies. As an individual or as a family, find a ritual that demonstrates your heartfelt feelings and do it! Memories are your keepsakes; treasure them. Take some time during the holidays to talk about good memories, share pictures, light a candle, place a wreath, contribute to a charity, or anything else that makes you think of your loved one.

Taming the "blues"#7:  Seek treasures of the soul. Going forward into the New Year is often difficult, but it can also be a time for cleansing and rejuvenation. Spend some time thinking about the experience you have been going through. What does it mean in your present and future life? Think about purpose and assess yourself as an individual. How can you help others through difficult times? Think about the positive things in your life and how you can use them to help you cope. Find a renewed sense of faith or discover a new meaning for existence.

Taming the "blues" #8:  When the giving hurts, keep on giving. We are nurtured to believe that when something hurts, it's time to pull back, quit or change what we are doing. Not a holiday has passed since Chad's death in 1993 that hasn't caused me to hurt in some way. So Gary and I decided if it hurts anyhow, we may as well "give" until it hurts a little more.

Each year, we host a "When the Holidays Hurt" workshop for the community, and in our hearts we feel the newness of the pain everyone in our workshop feels. We've walked in their shoes. But it's our way to give of ourselves and remind them that life goes on--and we need to catch up or it will pass us by. We also give to charities, but the most upsetting of these was a program we participated in that purchases gifts for unfortunate children and food to fill the family's refrigerator. Along with Santa, we delivered these gifts to the door and saw the beautiful smiles and laughter of children whom Santa wouldn't have visited any other way. We also felt the thankfulness of parents who were grateful for blessings. It was a beautiful "hurt" and it felt so good to give.
Giving of self to others is by far the best antidote for holiday blues. 
Source: Nexu4.deviantart.com
When you wipe away the tears, clear the frog in your throat and calm the racing of your heart, you know what love and true joy are all about. There is no louder message that speaks of infinite peace on earth, goodwill to men.

 I know that Chad and my departed family will be looking down on us--missing the good times we had together--but giving us the grandest "atta boy" of them all.
Published in the Wings magazine, Vol. X, No.4, 2003. This piece was taken from Grief Digest Magazine, Oct. 2005. For a full copy of the article email: centeringcorp@aol.com.

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Read another Condolence Coach post about the holidays:
Condolence During the Holidays

Thank you for caring!

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