Dealing with Grief during the Christmas Holidays

We think of the Christmas holidays as a time of joy and celebration, a time of giving and receiving, and above all, a family time.

Unfortunately for lots of us, life intervenes and we find ourselves dealing with grief at the holidays. Many are entering the Christmas season with a keen awareness that one or more of their family will be missing, whether by death, divorce or circumstance.

In mid-December, 2008, my daughter Monique died, and earlier that year our son Colin died. In late 2006 my son Richard died. My wife and I are already discussing the gap Colin’s absence will leave in our Christmas.

Monique’s mother, my ex-wife, lost her husband two weeks before Monique died. I don’t have to speak with her to know that she is entering the Christmas season with a heightened awareness of her losses, as we are with ours.

So the question is this: is there a way to enjoy the holiday season while dealing with grief?

Back in my 30s I was separated from my young children for a few years. In the process of dulling the pain I became an alcoholic. Trying to be unconscious of the pain was dumb, and I paid a high price to realize it.

Years later two of our adult children were not getting along with each other and refused to come to our place for Christmas if the other one was going to be here. We made a conscious decision to try something quite different for us: we went away on holiday. We did that for three Christmases until the kids had sorted out their differences and become friends again. We missed the kids, so it wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was much better than remaining in the midst of conflict and hoping for a reality that wasn’t to be.

With our losses of the recent past, we are deliberately being quite conscious of the absences. We will have our own rituals for acknowledging and celebrating the lives of our children who have passed on. We may hang stockings. We certainly will talk as much as we want to about Monique, Colin, and Richard—how they enriched the lives of others, and what they taught us.

Christmas only has to be a dreaded time if you make it so. If you are dealing with loss this Christmas, make up your own rituals to acknowledge yourself and the one now absent. Drink less so you can remain more conscious of their absence and of your own presence. If possible, connect with others who know your loss, and without judgment can accept your need to acknowledge your loss. Avoid people who will make it their mission to cheer you up and make you forget.

Talk to your cat; pets get it.

Chronically Unhappy People vs. Happy People

Chronic Happiness

“I’ve been to the mountaintop… And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.” Martin Luther King Jr. April 3, 1968

You and I have experienced people who seem to be stuck in chronic unhappiness. It is as if they had “Victim” tattooed on their foreheads and wore a badge saying, “long-suffering”

There is no question that some of the chronically unhappy people have suffered severe trauma and bad times. But there are other chronically unhappy people who seem to have everything going for them. They may justify their gloom with excuses like, “How can I be happy when some animals are going extinct?”

However, there are many more of us who have had horrible things happen to them, but remain basically happy people.

Those of you who know me, recognize me as a happy person. You also know that I have been through some horrendous experiences, most recently, losing three of my adult children. These losses were by far the worst of the 25 or so relatives, friends, colleagues and clients that have died in the past 10 years. But I’m back.

For most healthy people, their happiness in the moment is influenced by what’s going on in their lives. What is important is that their feelings of happiness and unhappiness act as signals that something is going right or that something is going wrong.

If you find yourself suddenly unhappy, you take it as a signal that something has to change, that something needs fixing. For example, if you have suffered a loss, you grieve so you can face it, accept it, and get back into your life. You pushed through your unhappiness and resumed your life. If you got stuck, you got help, because for you, being stuck in chronic unhappiness was not an option.

Sadly, the chronically unhappy usually refuse help. For one thing most don’t believe that happiness is even a possibility for them. Added to that is often the belief they don’t deserve happiness: “I should have been the one who died.”

The major reason why chronically unhappy people will not seek help is because they are afraid of what might change. They are comfortable in their unhappy state. It serves them to be victims, since victims don’t have to take responsibility and no one blames them.

Think about it: A change from chronic unhappiness to happiness would mean taking responsibility for one’s life and moods. One would have to give up victim-hood. And sadly, going to the mountaintop to take a peek at what’s on the other side is far too terrifying for most chronically unhappy people to consider. It’s safer and easier to believe their condition is terminal.