Coping with grief and loss during the holidays

In the holiday season, many families eagerly anticipate getting together with loved ones and sharing these special holidays. On the opposite extreme are those for whom the thought of these weeks fill them with feelings of dread. I am referring here to individuals or families who have experienced a significant loss.

This might be the first holiday season since the death of someone that was dearly loved. This might be the first Christmas alone after a divorce or the breakup of a long-term relationship.

Losing a Loved One is Traumatic

Losing a loved one is the most traumatic experience you can go through. If someone you loved has died within the last year you are probably feeling enormous pain. There is so much you miss about them and your whole future seems bleak without them. Death is part of the life cycle but it is never easy.

Grief and loss can also refer to other circumstances like divorce, a relationship break up, job loss, disability after illness or an accident and even immigration. What we also know about loss is that when there is a loss, in the present, at an unconscious level you are also connecting with other losses at other times in your life, making the current situation even harder to deal with.

The Grieving Process Takes Time

Grieving is a process that cannot not be hurried. It takes as long as it takes to start feeling better. There is no formula. Some people may start to find their equilibrium at around six months after the loss, for others, it can take several years to come to terms with the grief and start moving on.

One of the most famous authors on Grief and Loss was Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. She originally wrote about the stages that dying people tend to go through as they come to terms with the realisation that they will soon be dead. Her stages have since been borrowed by the wider grief community as a means of describing the grief process more generally.

The 5 Stages of Grieving

Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grieving are as follows:

Denial: this is the first stage. Here a grieving person is unable or unwilling to accept that the loss has taken place. The loss feels unreal and there is the hope that they will wake up to find the loved one still with them. It can feel like being in a dream.

Anger: once there is acceptance that the loss has in fact occurred, one might start to feel anger and a huge sense of unfairness. One might even become angry at the person who is now gone and who has abandoned them.

Bargaining:  In this stage people will often beg for the loss to be undone. This is often bargaining with a higher power with promises of better behaviour or significant life changes in exchange for a reversal of the loss.

Depression: when it becomes clear that anger and bargaining are not going to reverse the loss one may sink into depression. The reality of the loss is confronted and there can be a huge sense of helplessness. During this stage grieving people may cry a lot, experience changes in their eating and sleeping patterns or withdraw from others and activities they used to enjoy. This is appropriate to give one time to process one’s feelings.

Acceptance: eventually, hopefully, one reaches the stage of acceptance. This is where the initial very strong feelings of grief start to lift and one can accept that the loss has occurred and cannot be undone. One can slowly start re-engaging with life and thinking about the future.

Not everyone will experience all of these stages and they might not occur in the same order.

At Zetland Psychotherapy, we do not hurry this process. A significant loss needs to be understood and respected and we will patiently support and assist you until you feel you are able to manage on your own.