The end-of-year holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, were always the most beautiful, loving, and hopeful time of the year. Unfortunately, it’s not so much the case this year, and I’m working on enjoying the jingle bells ringing, the good times and singing, and the feeling of life all aglow.
Last year, my family spent the Thanksgiving holidays at my house, and we had a great time together like we always do. The following Tuesday, my husband took my father home. On Thursday, I sat down for dinner with my girlfriend from out of town. As I put the fork in my mouth to enjoy my first bite of food, the phone rang. It was my mother. I’ll never forget the panicked voice on the other end that cried out, “Dixie! I think something is wrong with your dad. I just came home and met him in the chair, and he’s cold.”
A feeling of nausea washed over me, and I sprang into action telling my mom to dial 911. I immediately started calling friends and family who were close by to go be with her, all while summoning up the courage not to crack into a million pieces. I somehow managed to make it through the many hazy hours following that phone call, only to realize several hours later I still had food shoved in the back of my left cheek.
Exactly seven days after Thanksgiving day, my father passed away.
The days that followed were tumultuous, painful, numbing, and sad. For the first time there was no Dad around for Christmas and New Year’s. The shocking reality set in that he would also not be there for Valentine’s Day, my birthday, the kids’ birthdays, his birthday, Father’s Day, and all the other holidays, including the last holiday we spent together, Thanksgiving.
It’s been almost a year now, and as September rolled in and the anniversary of his death began to draw near, a feeling of trepidation began to mount in my body. How was I going to deal with this unbearable pain again? And then the unthinkable happened. I received a call one evening that one of my dearest friends was in a coma, and the prognosis was grim. Less than 24 hours later, I received the text that she was dead. To make matters worse, coincidentally, my dear girlfriend’s body was housed in the same funeral home as my dad, and she was eulogized and viewed in the same room as he was.
Nathalie’s death brought my grief back in full focus. Square one. Like with Dad, I was shocked. I felt depressed and wanted to crawl into my bed and not get out for a long time. Nonetheless, I got up. I had to remind myself that I’m alive. I’m living, and living includes happiness, pain, and sorrow. The goal now was to take care of myself and implement self-care practices that would ease the pain and sorrow and bring happiness back into my reach.
Grief is a process, and it always helps to have a toolkit. I turned to mine, which included resources I’ve acquired over the years from phenomenal teachers, healers, coaches, and gurus.
Here are five things I’ve learned to do to cope with my grief as the holiday season approaches.
1. I take time for myself.
Taking time for myself has empowered me on this grief journey. I am very intentional about making time for my well-being by doing something to nourish my mind, body, and spirit every single day. For example, in my moments of grief I do not feel hungry. However, the self-care connoisseur in me knows I need to nourish my body with wholesome, healthy foods in order to stay healthy.
When you lose a loved one, sadness is inevitable. It comes in waves, and I felt like I was trapped in a big wave, being tossed up and down and all around. It can also come with lethargy and feelings of depression. To counteract those feelings, I turn to exercise (Zumba) and restorative movements like yoga and qigong. Although I’m still working on solidifying my meditation practice, I’m able to use it to center and focus as I turn inward to help with my morning ritual of prayer.
These were all routines I practiced on a regular basis prior to my dad’s death. However, I’ve had to amplify and deepen every aspect of my movement, my nutrition, and my spiritual practice. It’s made accepting reality so much easier. It’s helped me diminish my fears and bolster my hopefulness for the future.
I also reached out to a therapist. It always helps to have someone to turn to who has an objective viewpoint and one who is knowledgeable about the grief process.
2. I feel my feelings without guilt.
For some, being close to family and basking in the holiday traditions that their deceased loved ones appreciated is comforting. However, for others that may not be the case. Being around family and holiday traditions can trigger unwanted and painful memories. As a result, some would rather be alone. I wanted to be alone with my family last Christmas, and I want to be alone with them this Thanksgiving and holiday season too. We’ve talked about it as a family and agreed we would understand if one person wants to pull out and be alone. And guess what? One sister pulled out, and she’s OK, and we’re OK. She’s feeling her feelings. We’re feeling ours. No judgement. Only healing.
Honor your individual feelings. It’s OK if you’re not ready for what others might be ready to do. Proceed at your own pace and be sure to allow yourself to process your feelings.
3. I talk about my loved one whenever I feel like it.
We talked about Dad all the time for about a month or so after he passed. However, as the time went by, I noticed no one, including me, was bringing up his name, especially if my mother was present. I could feel the tension in our immediate family gatherings. I didn’t want to bring him up all the time because I was afraid it would trigger unpleasant emotions in other family members. What I didn’t realize is that they were thinking the very same thing I was. I’ve since learned that it’s OK to talk about your deceased loved one whenever you feel the need. I now freely share memories and stories. It’s a part of the healing process. I don’t hold back. We don’t hold back.
4. I am patient with the process.
Like most people, my holidays were filled with rituals of celebration. Life after loss requires lots of adjustments, especially during the holidays and celebratory days like birthdays. That adjustment takes time, which in turn requires a certain degree of patience. I’m different from my mother, my sisters, and my brother, and each of our adjustment period differs. I’ve learned not to beat myself up if they are seemingly doing well and moving faster than I am. What’s important is that I’m practicing healthy habits so I can move forward in a positive way.
5. I am crystal clear about what I want to do for the holidays.
This one is a biggie. Our family had to deal with Christmas three weeks after Dad was buried. Needless to say, I was extremely concerned about family expectations for the holiday. The fact is, I wasn’t ready to fulfill any expectations and follow any rituals and routines. I, along with my immediate family members, was not in the frame of mind to dive back into the festivities with food, trees, lights, people, and presents.
So, we honored our feelings and gave ourselves permission to switch and pivot. Instead of the usual excessive cooking, tree lights, and presents, we gathered, watched movies, took long walks, ordered our meals, and reminisced about the good times. To date I’ve not created any new rituals, but I know if and when I decide to, it will be totally my prerogative and OK.
This year, since it’s the first Thanksgiving without Dad, I’ve made it very clear that I’m not doing the big cooking and celebration. It’s going to be a toned down and reflective time. Now, is that to say next year and the following years will be the same? Of course not. It’s simply what I truly want this year, and I’ve made it crystal clear.
Dixie Lincoln-Nichols is a wife, mother, science educator, certified health & wellness practitioner, and entrepreneur. Her Website can be
found here: http://dixielincolnnichols.com/