Coping with holiday sadness
Before sunrise, the sky still dark, I start my walk around Greenlake. It’s quiet in the early morning, with just a few walkers or joggers. I love watching the sky grow lighter, slowly illuminating the trees and the shore of this urban green space. As dawn breaks, I hear the winter birds start their daily song.
This time of year, as I watch the sunrise, I’m sad. I think of my mother who passed away 5 years ago this winter. She had a heart attack right after the Christmas holiday and died two and a half months later. She was 92.
I spent many weeks with her at the end of her life supporting her home hospice care in her independent living apartment in Florida. During those weeks, I also woke before sunrise, sat on her balcony, drinking coffee, watching the sky grow lighter, just as I do here in the Pacific Northwest. I listened to the birds start their morning song, every day, wondering if that day would be my Mom’s last day.
I savored those moments, knowing that this time with my mother would come to an end. But I was unprepared for the grief I felt when she died.
The holiday season can be a mixture of sweet and sad. Many of us have lost loved ones around the holidays. The death rate rises during the period between Christmas and New Year’s, and so it’s not uncommon for families to lose a relative during this time. And it’s natural to think about loved ones who aren’t here anymore to join us during holiday meals and celebrations.
How can we manage the sad feelings that sit alongside our happy ones?
Take some time to acknowledge your sadness.
Don’t sweep your feelings under the rug! Give them their due and let them be. Talk about loved ones that are gone, honor their memory, and celebrate the gifts they have passed on to you. Expressing your feelings is healthy and healing.
Recent losses will be more painful.
If a loved one passed this year, your holiday may be particularly sad and painful. Grief comes in waves that aren’t always predictable and can knock you down when you least expect it. During the first year of loss, this happens more frequently and can be intense. There will be many “firsts” this year. Don’t resist these waves. Let them take you, shake yourself off, and keep going. This is a natural part of life.
During this time of year, when I feel sad, I like to take long walks. I don my rain suit, dress warmly, and melt in with the gray sky. I let my stride help me find my way through my feelings. I like to take hot baths with lavender Epson salts to heat my tight muscles. I listen to classical music. I go inside and take care of my spirit. I know that sadness is part of life and missing my parents acknowledges our generational ties.
It’s not necessary to live up to everyone else’s expectations.
It’s ok to miss a holiday party or get together to provide yourself with the rest you need during this busy season. Make sure to get plenty of sleep, limit alcohol, eat healthy foods, and get outside as much as you can in between the fun, the food, and the sweets.