How to Navigate Loss During the Holidays

Loss is something that is rarely mentioned during the holiday season when everything is supposed to be just GREAT with little room for less-than-happy emotions.  Yet I know a lot of people who are navigating loss and grief from events of the past year. What do you do when you are shaken by the passing of someone —or several people — you loved, whose absence you can’t help be knocked out by?

After her partner passed away, long-time Improvised Life reader Sybille Palmer wrote:

Loss has come to be my teacher. 

 

They are about the wisest words I’ve heard, an insightful and courageous attitude in finding the path through when your world has changed. Just embracing that attitude means not making loss an enemy or something to be shutdown, and being open to its lessons.

 

What helps?

 

Resting. Really taking care and slowing down. Listening carefully to when to lay low and dismantle the “shoulds” in your head, and when to get out of yourself and into something other: friends, art, dinner out, a walk.

 

buddha reclining

 

Permission to NOT be part of holiday festivities and demands or the way you used to do it can be transformative. If hiding out, or going to the movies, or to bed, or giving gifts some other time (or never)  —whatever —  helps, give yourself permission to go against the tide.

 

Sally Schneider

Sally Schneider

 

After her husband’s death, Sybille wrote that she didn’t cook Thanksgiving dinner as usual. She and her friend Mary went to the best restaurant in town and “let them spoil us“. She let someone else take care of her.

 

But she also made sure to care for others. She cooked up a storm “to take to friend’s homes“.  “These past months, I have been feeding myself, friends at work, a new neighbor, as well as near strangers. Food is such magic that way, a connector, a way to other people’s hearts.” Feeding and taking care of people can be a mighty antidote.

 

High on my list is not denying what I feel. Bringing sadness to consciousness, grieving in whatever way works, resting and then figuring out what I really need allows feelings space to transform. And they invariably do.

 

Second on my list is chosing carefully who I WANT to be with and steering clear of aggressively-cheery people.

 

My friend Christopher Eldredge, a psychotherapist in New York City, advised connecting to beauty. Anything beautiful, whether in/from Nature or a man-made creation. In New York City, that can include random interactions with strangers that prove quietly uplifting. When he apologized for accidentally jostling a woman in a crowded subway car, she said “Don’t be sorry. We all have to share here.”
Ellen Silverman

Ellen Silverman

Beauty is often free. Look UP and become an ad hoc member of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Clouds are ALWAYS there, ready to yield perspective and amazement.
Sally Schneider

Sally Schneider

Music is a fine resource. You can access ten full days free of the works by Johann Sebastian Bach’s truly transformative music by tuning into NYC radio station WKCR’s wondrous Bach Festival. Listen to Bach 24/7 from December 22nd through December 31st at 11:59 pm  at 89.9 FM or stream it via wkcr.org).

 

Chris also advised creating new rituals when the old ones have dropped away. By “ritual” he means something as simple as going out to dinner with friends, or anything that is resonant and feels right. Years ago, I replaced many of the holiday “shoulds” I was doing with the old practice of “visiting”: going on a walkabout to see friends. Whatever you do, if it felt good, then perhaps it is something to carry on next year…and gradually it becomes a ritual.

 

Shortly after her husband died, Sybille wrote: “I am searching for ways to redefine myself. A way to live without the Big Love I used to have for so many years in my life.”

 

A way to redefine” means careful listening, caretaking, and willingness to be open to the idea that joy, beauty and kindness can appear randomly to offer respite and healing.
Path 3 Come-with-Me- Ellie Davies

 

For SC, LK, HB, CA, JC, SS, JE…

Photos of “paths” from “Come with Me” by Ellie Davies

 

13 Responses to How to Navigate Loss During the Holidays

  1. Harriet Bell 12.24.2015 at 11:08am #

    Thank you, Sally. A lovely and inspiring piece.

  2. Charlie Allenson 12.24.2015 at 11:15am #

    Sally — a moving, pertinent and heartfelt piece. Thank you.

  3. JimDillon 12.24.2015 at 11:29am #

    Amen.

  4. Cynthia A. 12.24.2015 at 11:51am #

    Thank you for this! I love the holidays, but know so many who struggle with them. I will be passing along your ideas.

  5. Julie Houston 12.24.2015 at 12:13pm #

    Dearest Sally,

    I treasure your honesty in addressing loss at this time of year.
    I also treasure Improvised Life, giving thanks for you.
    Julie

  6. Sandy Ibach 12.24.2015 at 1:05pm #

    Dad died this year, he was 96 yo. I feel like laying low for the holidays and just allow myself to feel and listen to happenings around me. I thought I was going to just disappear but instead find I could help friends by animal and ranch sitting. I have 7 loving dogs, four cats, 6 chickens and four horses giving me love in return while I am here. What a wonderful Christmas it is!

  7. Samuel P. Marchbanks, LLD 12.24.2015 at 1:44pm #

    Gloom on the holidays is considered un-American, or, at best, a disease. But here’s documentary proof that the holiday blues are as American as chow mein. Well, the frankfurter. French fries?

    http://www.vox.com/2015/12/24/10660442/blue-christmas-television-movies-its-a-wonderful-life

  8. Robin 12.24.2015 at 2:23pm #

    That was beautiful. Thank you.

  9. Patricia Smith 12.24.2015 at 2:32pm #

    I second all of the above comments, with personal additional “thanks”.

  10. Joan 12.24.2015 at 7:00pm #

    Recommending Laurie Anderson’s film, “Heart of a Dog.”

  11. Sally 01.08.2016 at 6:36pm #

    A very belated thank you for this recommendation. I haven’t yet had a chance to see the film but have been listening to the soundtrack nonstop: 1000 layers there that I haven’t yet wrapped my head around, but find deeply heartening…healing. Laurie Anderson’s work has been woven all through my life and Improvised Life for many years. This new work, perfect for right now. I hope to find a way to write about it.

  12. Susan 07.13.2016 at 9:49am #

    One of the hardest things for us, after my almost 22 year old son was killed in a car accident, was facing the empty chair at the table. We found that moving holiday meals to an informal setting in our den was far easier. On a day to day basis, we eat wherever it feels comfortable-even in front of the t.v. (Something we *never* did prior to his death). We call what we are doing “finding a new normal”, to force ourselves to do otherwise was painful for all,especially my younger, and now only living son. I pray for all with similar losses that their suffering will ease.

  13. Sally Schneider 07.13.2016 at 9:58am #

    Susan, thank you so much for sharing your strategy, that started with honing in on some of the specifics that are so difficult. It is clear that extreme losses and trauma demand an incredible degree of flexibility and improvisation to survive, on the most elemental levels. “Finding a new normal” is often an ongoing practice.

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