It’s December 2021, which marks the 11th holiday season that I’ve experienced without my late husband. Fortunately, each season has gotten easier. It is possible to recreate a joy-filled and meaningful life in the aftermath of death, loss, and those horrific changes that life throws our way.
As a retired mental health professional with close to 25 years of experience, I have a great deal of faith in the resiliency of the human spirit. I learned firsthand that most people want to heal and get their lives working again. If you are reading this post and you are feeling raw from a recent loss or are enduring continuing anguish from a flood of difficulties, I would like to offer you hope. This pain you are feeling right now will not last forever. I firmly believe that you have a say in how your life, and the circumstances that fill your daily routines, are going to go. This is not however a passive exercise – you will need to be committed to doing what is required to get to the other side of the challenges.
Painful and fearful memories and thoughts will arise. We can be either hijacked by them or we can create the mental muscle to steer them in another direction. For example, you may find yourself catastrophizing about your future – telling yourself that you’ll never be whole or happy again. Please know this is brain chatter and negative thinking – you do not have to believe everything you think. You can counter these negative thoughts with affirmations or prayer. You can tell that voice to be quiet and to stop scaring you. I often reminded myself to breathe. I frequently told myself “this too shall pass”.
We have little control over the circumstances that surround us in life. Yet there are two things we have full control over: the words we say, and who we choose to be, regardless of circumstance. I chose to be resilient in the face of the daily dread I awoke with each day. I chose to be around people who were committed to my well-being and healing.
This holiday season, we cannot overlook the continuing stress from the COVID pandemic. It has been very tough on Americans’ physical and mental health. So if you find yourself reeling from a personal loss, as well as struggling with the impact of the pandemic, remember that there are ways to ease your stress levels. You have a say in how you are going to deal with the stress.
Here are five ways that I was able to get through the first holiday seasons after my husband’s death. I hope these will help you:
- I walked and did yoga a few times a week … fresh air and moving my body were so gentle on my wounded psyche.
- I was under a physician’s care and decided to abstain from alcohol as it can add to the heavy load of depression.
- I leaned on my friends for support. I reached out when I needed help. We cannot grieve alone.
- I maintained my spiritual practices: daily prayer, meditation, reading passages from a variety of books on grief, staying engaged with my spiritual community, regularly cuddling with my loving pets.
- I went to a weekly grief support group … being around other women who had lost their partners was reassuring – I didn’t feel alone.
Remember you are not alone. Reach out – to a friend, a neighbor, your spiritual community. Someone who was important during my grief journey once said to me: “Kathleen, we cannot take away your grief, but we can help you carry it”.