Coping with grief and loss is one of life’s greatest challenges. Sometimes the task is so monumental that it feels impossible, and yet here we are doing the impossible, surviving the loss of someone who is inextricably a part of our heart, existence and routine. During the holidays, the loss is illuminated as we witness people making plans with their families, buying gifts, or engaging in long-standing traditions. In the midst of millions of people giving thanks for another year with their families, we are still left with the reality that this holiday will be different for us, if we observe it at all.
Some of us have endured this season without our loved one for many years and have developed strategies for coping through this time. For others, this will be our first holiday without the person who has always been an integral part of our holiday memories. Some may feel lost or struggle with indecision about how to mark the season. The change being thrust upon you can be disorienting and can create inner conflict as we may have competing demands - our own need to reflect and find how this loss has changed the way we do holidays, and the needs others have to engage with them at a time of year when people come together to celebrate. This can be difficult to balance, especially when "celebration" is not in our current vocabulary. The conflicting needs or demands, along with our own holiday disorientation, can lead to a need for reflection. Taking time for solitude may be the best gift you give yourself this year.
When we are grieving, there is often concern when we choose to be alone. Family, friends and others may be concerned this is unhealthy, especially at the holidays - and yet there may be times when you feel the need to have solitude as a respite from the bustling activity of the season. Solitude can offer a time of reflection that allows us to explore our thoughts and synthesize information, provides a time for rest, and can allow for growth as we still ourselves. While solitude can be refreshing, too much time alone can lead to social isolation and feelings of loneliness. When we become isolated, the walls can begin to close in on us, feeling more like a prison as we avoid others.
Like many things in life, striking a balance is important. Whether choosing a temporary period of solitude or struggling with isolation, reflections are likely to cause a mix of emotions as we engage memories of our loved one and "feel the feels." While solitude may be preferable for certain periods, surrounding ourselves at various times with others can provide a different kind of respite from our grief. Engaging with family, friends, coworkers and neighbors can bring feelings of social connectedness, which can yield a greater sense of well-being and have positive health effects, all of which are important to offset the effects of grief on our minds and bodies.
If your time of quiet solitude has turned to social avoidance, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and is draining you of energy instead of restoring you, it is time to reach out for support. Reach out to the person or people who have been helpful and encouraging during this season of your life. If it is difficult to identify who that might be, there are actions you can take to develop helpful supports for your journey: join a care group in your local community, reach out to your faith community, re-engage with others in an activity you have set aside, explore ways to honor your loved one during the holiday season, and reach out to your TAPS family. The Survivor Care Team is always here to help you explore your supports and encourage you on your journey.