a man with HIV stands in a dark cloud while his friends and family celebrate all around him

Coping with Grief During the Holiday Season

I can remember when the holidays became emotionally difficult. My father died a sudden death in April 1986. His death devastated my MaDear, my sisters, and myself. Since that time my MaDear and baby sister have died from cancer and, whenever their birthdays or holidays come around, there is the potential to trigger a depressive episode.

Talk therapy

I understand from my work in talk therapy that I have issues around separation and loss. For me, it manifests in a deep desire and need to connect with family, friends, and community.

Perhaps it has to do with the community in which I grew up. I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a neighborhood with both sets of grandparents, uncles and aunts, and so many cousins. It created a powerful sense of security. Because of the close proximity when there was a loss, I felt it deeply.

Holiday joy is hard to witness

It can be extremely difficult witnessing holiday joy from the community around you. I have, at times, been overwhelmed by all the traditions that remind me of my loss and sometimes pressured by how I think I should feel. I have at times been tempted to numb the pain.

As a result of talk therapy, I have developed some tools for coping with grief during the holidays. I have learned that rather than resisting the reality of my grief during the holidays, I work towards creating an experience that addresses that I need to honor how I feel.

It is also through my work in talk therapy that has provided me with some tools of not just coping with the holidays, but preparing myself to thrive through these calendar events that always seems to keep coming.

I no longer beat myself up

If I acknowledge how and what I feel as a normal emotion - actually sit in how my body feels - it helps me to respond in a more productive manner. I no longer beat myself up for how I feel about the loss of my loved ones. No matter how long it has been. As I shared, my father died suddenly in 1986 and there are times in which I still feel the pain of his loss.

Looking after myself during the holiday season

I have to look after myself before the big holidays come. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the action of the holidays that I don’t check in with myself. These holidays can bring with them high levels of stress. I try to take as much control over my circumstances, which makes the grieving a little easier for me.

One of the biggest things which I have had to learn is how to say no. My family was big on holiday traditions. I grew up with my family rotating from house-to-house with someone hosting Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter dinners. Sometimes hosting can be more of a burden when you are already struggling. I have to learn that it's fine to take a break from cooking and baking or even attending annual parties. I have created some new traditions for my nuclear family.

Remember to take care of yourself

Lastly, I will say, seek out the support you need to get through and thrive. I have a few first cousins with who I share throughout the year how I am feeling. This way, if I am not in a good space, it doesn’t come as a surprise and my family knows how to support me during those times.

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