By Jenni Klock Morel
As the holidays approach, do you feel pressure? Personally, I believe there is pressure during the holiday season. It is multifaceted: societal pressure, pressure from our family and friends, even pressure from ourselves. Pressure to be joyous, to celebrate, to laugh. After all it is the most wonderful time of the year!
That expression never really rang true for me, particularly since I lost my brother to suicide. For people deep in grief, or on the journey of healing from grief, the holiday season may be a difficult time of year. In fact, I have had dozens of conversations with fellow Survivors of Suicide Loss, and the vast majority of us struggle, at least in part, through the holiday season.
While I do not support the notion of “getting over it,” I am a strong advocate for the notion of “moving through grief,” and “learning to live well after loss.” We will never get over our loss, but we can move past the grief and other debilitating emotions. We can learn to live well again. If you feel pressure from people to move on, or get over your loss: I encourage you to either ignore it, or open up a dialogue to address how your grief is personal and that grieving in one’s own way and at their own pace is both healthy and appropriate.
Holidays after loss can be difficult. This time of year includes Thanksgiving, New Years, and many other major religious holidays, as well as many events, gatherings, or parties. Spend some time in advance to think about what you could do to make the holidays a bit easier for you. Emotionally prepare for difficult days or events, or craft a plan to alter or avoid the things you find difficult. Remember: Take care of yourself first. It is always okay to say “no” to invitations or events. You do not owe anybody an explanation.
Last year I heard about a fellow-survivor who was not yet ready to ‘do the holidays’ again, so to speak. Cindy lost her son to suicide, and while she was not ready to trim a tree or participate in gift exchanges, she wanted to do something positive in honor of her son.
The Inherent Power in Helping Others, Cindy’s Story
Cindy reached out to SOSL Facilitator, Cheryl Williams, though SOSL’s Individual Phone/Email Support Program (SOSLsd.org/support/phone). Both had lost a son to suicide, so they quickly formed a bond of support. Cindy was searching for something positive during the holidays, and Cheryl knew a family that was in need of help.
Initially, Cindy had wanted to give anonymously to help this family in need. However, it worked out that she personally delivered the food, clothing, and gifts to the mother and young daughter who were facing a very bleak Christmas. And Cindy invited her own daughter, Ashley, then struggling with the loss of her brother, to get involved helping this family as well. .
In Cindy’s Words
“Meeting her and seeing how affected she was touched me. She wanted to hug me and wanted her daughter to meet and thank me. I didn’t want to stay around long, as I did not feel up to connecting too much emotionally. Just knowing that I had made a difference in someone’s life, if only for a moment, was what I needed, somewhat if not totally selfishly.
The process of putting my attention around the holidays somewhere other than the “norm,” (which I’ll never have back as a mom who has lost a child to suicide) was so crucial to getting through such a difficult time when the triggers that bring on the intense pain of loss are everywhere.
My daughter, Ashley, who is a nurse shopped for clothing and shoes for the young girl. She works all holidays so that she doesn’t have to deal as directly with the pain of missing her brother on such special occasions when the grief of his loss seems so much more heightened.
I’m sure we will do the same again this year. Also, I have donated to people through “giving trees” and such, but somehow choosing a specific family and fulfilling their Christmas wishes and needs had much more meaning for me. Something about knowing their story and specific needs and having the goal of easing their hardships helped keep my focus on them.
While I had the opportunity to meet the woman and daughter we helped, Ashley only saw the handwritten thank you note from them. She appreciated knowing how grateful they were – but I really think the healing for her was in knowing that this little girl needed clothing and shoes, and she was helping to solve that issue. That was Ashley’s focus while out in the stores during the holidays.”
Thank you, Cindy & Ashley, for doing such a beautiful thing and for sharing your story with SOSL!
If you’re struggling with the holidays, consider what you can do to help someone else. You may find that helping others in need helps facilitate a piece of your own healing. Plus, doing good is always a good thing – as my big brother Joey always said: “It’s a beautiful thing.“