I love the holidays with all its rituals, traditions and celebrations.
It’s a time for family and friends, for coming together, to be thankful, to celebrate, and to share. It’s how I felt before my first husband died more than twenty years ago, and it’s how I feel now.
However, when he died in late October, right before the holidays, I felt as if I would never be able to get through the holiday season that began a month later with Thanksgiving, continuing on to Christmas and the celebration of a New Year. Eventually I was able to feel the joy and sparkle again, but it took time.
What helped me during the holidays the first few years was to create rituals that honored our continuing bond of love.
One of the rituals that gave me comfort was a beautiful big white candle I bought, with silver stars embedded in the side. I’d light it every night and watch the flame flicker while the candle glowed and the stars twinkled. I’d think of the happy times we shared, and how grateful I was for them. For me, it was a tangible symbol of our connection.
This has been such a difficult year, yet again.
A few years ago, I wrote about how the holidays can be tough, especially when we’re grieving. I wrote about what a difficult year it had been, with natural disasters like fires and hurricanes, mass shootings and tumultuous events which now seem like a foreshadowing of all that has followed.
The ensuing three years have felt like a down escalator into the depths of a collective grief and trauma most of us have not experienced in our lifetimes. Most obviously the pandemic. When you think of how one death can affect so many people, and multiply it by all the other kinds of losses, like jobs, homes, businesses, and so very much more, it’s overwhelming. The escalation of natural disasters continues, the polarization of our country grows, the deep injustices, the anger, the fear..… I could continue but I don’t need to. You, my readers, know. You know how it feels. The loss of the world we knew, both on a micro-level and a macro-level.
I’m encouraged to see the national and global ongoing conversation of the importance of mental health and applaud those who have platforms speaking out to anyone needing support to ask for it, assuring them “you are not alone”. All of us experience feelings of anxiety, depression, and grief at some point in our lives, especially after this past year-and-a-half. Having your feelings and emotions validated, knowing that others have had similar experiences, is the first step into healing, of finding a glimmer of hope when you’re feeling hopeless.
As anyone who has read my book or reads my posts knows, the most important thing when you’re grieving is to know you are not alone in the experience of grief. Grieving is what makes us human. If you love, you will grieve.
The holidays can be overwhelming for many of us, especially if we are grieving. This holiday season I want to remind you that no matter where you are in your grieving, be compassionate towards yourself. Give yourself the time you need.
We all try so hard for others, why can’t we try hard for ourselves too? There were many occasions when I had to take a break and step back, even if it was to just go the restroom for a few minutes where I could cry, take some deep breaths, and remind myself it was okay to not be okay. It was also okay to smile and welcome a happy moment.
The loss of what was brings the beginning of what is – a new way of being in the world. Take baby steps and deep breaths. Accept help and support. Give support and help with compassion, kindness, and understanding. It is my fervent prayer that it’s time for the ride on the up elevator (express, please!!), to hope, healing, and transformation.
And for those times that feel overwhelming here’s a simple tool from my ToolBox Series that can help calm you in the moment.
My heart goes to everyone in this difficult time. We are all in this together, and together we will get through it. Love will prevail. Never lose hope.
May we all find moments of grace, hope, and joy this season.
Remember to be kind, to yourself, and to others.
From my heart to yours,
Debbie Augenthaler, LMHC, NCC, is an author and psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, where she specializes in trauma, grief and loss. Her award-winning book, You Are Not Alone: A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope combines her personal story of devastating loss with practical insights and simple suggestions for healing. Join her Facebook community, Grief to Gratitude, and follow her on Instagram.