Through the tinsel and the tears

January 22, 2014

By Lori Stahl, Grief Specialist
Interfaith Older Adult Programs, Inc – Family Care Case Manager


Whether you are newly bereaved, or remembering the death of a loved one during this time of the year, the following tips may be helpful to you.
Whether we are ready or not, the holidays have arrived. For the past few months, the stores have already begun to flood us with music, cards, lights, tinsel and trees. But when our hearts are heavy and filled with the deepest of sorrow, it does not matter to know how many more days there are to the holidays. For the parents whose dreams are shattered as their child will not be unwrapping their presents, for the widow whose bed is empty, for the widower who is trying to learn how to cook and for the family who is learning how to live with the empty chair at the table, I offer you some gifts this season.
Patience: Patience for yourself and for others. Slow down and take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you can get through this holiday season despite the intense emotions you are experiencing. Remember no one is perfect and you are feeling vulnerable. Know that all of your cooking, baking and decorating do not need to be accomplished. This is the time of year when your energy level is often very low and not as it once was. Do what you feel you have the energy for and allow that to be enough. It is okay to give yourself permission to change your traditions and to say no.
Time: This gift understands that grief is like an emotional rollercoaster with highs and lows each and every day. As you begin to live through the memories of your loved ones, slowly the intensity and depth of your feelings change. The painful memories begin to fade and are slowly replaced with memories of one’s smile, of your days together versus apart, of the life you shared and the fact that your loved one LIVED….not just that he died. It’s not the fact of how long grief takes, but what you do with your time that makes the difference. Talk, cry, scream, play, pray and laugh are ways of healing the hurts through time.
Touch: Touch someone with your presence this season. You may want to have your family volunteer at a food pantry, deliver meals or visit in a nursing home. Include your loved one in all of your gatherings by lighting a special candle and sharing stories. You can toast your loved one and feel his presence around the table. Set the table with paper placements and have everyone write a special message or share a funny story.
Tears: Tears are healthy and a sign of strength. Tears show a sign of courage that you are not afraid of releasing. We cry because we loved. Tears are a necessary part of the grieving process. It’s nature’s way of healing the mind and heart from the greatest injury of all. Allow yourself the luxury of limping till your pain has healed and you can slowly begin to walk again.
Gentleness: Forgive yourself for surviving after the death of your loved one. Know if you could have changed the events surrounding the death of your loved one, you would have. When a loved one’s death is out of your control, it is easy to place blame on yourself. Take time to be gentle to yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually. Finding a “new normal” in your daily routines and will slowly begin to occur. Bereavement work is time consuming and exhausting. Remember to pace yourself and know your limits.

Gift of memories: Give yourself the gift of saying your loved one’s name out loud, invite others to do the same and the stories and memories will flow. If you send out holiday cards or letters, cherish your loved one’s memory by writing their name in the card and then drawing a heart around their name. Memories are our connection to the past, the present and to our future.
The last gift I would like to share is the gift of Hope and Love. I want to give you the hope that you will find yourself again as your work through your grief. When the days ahead are bleak and you are struggling to get through, know that your loved one is always in your heart. I pray you find the courage and strength to begin again.. The memories you have of your loved one will stay in your heart forever. You can share the love that they gave you with your family and friends and know that this is a gift for a lifetime. May all the gifts you receive and give this holiday season bring you a warm sense of hope, peace, and love.
Need help with your older adult caregiving?
Please call: Interfaith Older Adult Programs – Family Caregiver Support Network 414-220-8600.