But What if I don’t Feel like Celebrating?

Finding Happiness this Holiday Season

How do we make space for our grief while also being present during the holiday season?

Being present means we are mindful and aware of what is happening at this moment; our mind and body are both in the “now”. It sounds so simple yet for those of us who are grieving, we see the challenge in this right off the bat; how can I focus on the “now” when yearn I for the past and worry about the uncertainty of the future?

Often in our grief, we vacillate between thoughts of the past and the future, struggling to focus on our here and now; simply biding time until we feel a shimmer of happiness again. Maybe it’s possible to do more than just pass the time and truly engage in our present, even as we grieve.

The Dual-Process Model of Coping, developed by Stroebe and Schut (1999), theorizes that most people experience normal grief as a back-and-forth process between loss-oriented and restoration-oriented coping.

Loss-oriented responses include feelings, thoughts and actions that make us think about our loved one and recognize and accept the loss itself. Examples of loss-oriented coping include crying, talking with others about the death, visiting the cemetery or place of interment, and focusing on memories of our loved one. While restoration-oriented responses include learning new skills, taking on new roles, and forming new relationships that are post-loss life events that the bereaved experience. Examples of restoration-focused coping include learning to manage household finances, finding a new job, learning to cook, and accepting our new identity as a widow or widower.

A key component of this this model is that we continually shift our focus from loss-oriented coping to restoration-oriented coping and then back again, over and over. It focuses on the dynamic process of grieving that is natural to each of us, including oscillating between confronting our loss and avoiding it. By giving ourselves permission to experience both modes of coping, we maintain an emotional balance and work through our grief in a healthy manner.

What appeals to me is that this model explains that it’s okay to take breaks from our grief. Sometimes we are able to face it head on and other times we give it a backseat as we focus on life tasks. It ties in so deeply with the importance of self-care. So much of self-care is finding balance and being aware of our current coping abilities.

By focusing on the present, on the moment we are in, we actually cope better with our grief than if we try to avoid the painful emotions altogether. Here are some tips for staying present:

  • Allow yourself moments of contentment and peace
  • Focus on one thing at a time
  • Move toward people instead of away
  • Don’t “should” yourself; prioritize the moments that are important to YOU
  • Be aware of ways you remain connected to your loved one who has died
  • Acknowledge and examine moments of grief, pain, and sorrow

Are you on course? Are you finding ways to engage this holiday season in ways that are meaningful and uplifting to you or are you just going through the motions? I hope you give yourself the gift living in the moment this holiday season.

Latest from Becky Lomaka, MA, CT, Director of Grief Support and Education O’Connor Mortuary

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