As we come up on Thanksgiving and Christmas, you may be dealing with grief during the holidays – whether that’s because of the loss of a person, the loss of a job, home, comfort and the life we knew before.
Katherine Ingram (a.k.a Grief Girl) came on the Happiness in Progress podcast. Katherine is a life transitions coach, counselor, speaker and award-winning author of Washing the Bones: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Transformation and Grief Girl’s Guide: How to Grieve, Why You Should and What’s In It for You.
Permission to Accept You Cannot Accept the Loss
“Sometimes the best you can do is accept that you cannot accept. It can be too much if you’ve just come through something or you’re still in something to say ‘well I need to accept this and move on’ – that’s not going to happen,” Katherine Ingram said on Happiness in Progress granting you permission to not accept what has happened.
She explains when we go through a traumatic loss it takes time for our mind, body and spirit to metabolize that.
In the first stages of horror and shock, Katherine says not only that you don’t have to accept it – but that there’s “no way you’re going to accept it.”
Instead of putting pressure on yourself to do so – she suggests accepting that you cannot accept what has happened.
This does acknowledge that there can be acceptance someday in the future, but not in the immediate aftermath.
How to Get to Acceptance When You’re Ready
Katherine describes moving from non-acceptance to acceptance as a journey. She says acceptance is a process.
To start, you’ll need to really be present in the everyday – acknowledging how you are really feeling and what you are really thinking. Katherine says this allows you to have expression whether it be anger, fear or guilt.
“It’s being with each feeling without resistance as it comes up,” Katherine describes saying, “And it is a daily walk.”
She says as you do this each day it will move you into acceptance.
Dealing with Grief During the Holidays
The first step to navigating dealing with grief during the holidays is to have a change in our expectations for our holidays.
She says it’s most helpful to give yourself permission, or a pass, to skip holidays as usual.
“It isn’t the time to be happy, happy, happy,” when we’ve lost jobs, our homes have burnt to the ground and we’ve lost loved ones.
If your situation is such that you’re full of a sorrow and that you don’t want to celebrate – don’t celebrate, Katherine advises.
Expectations about Grief
While we experience grief, Katherine points out that a large part of how we process grief also includes how we think we should be processing grief.
“The reality almost never matches the ‘well I should be happy anyway’ or ‘I should be over it by now’ or ‘well that’s life, I should accept it’ and maybe you’re not feeling that way. If you can accept where you are – that you’re sad today, that today is a low day, today’s not the day to buy Christmas presents – give yourself that pass. Give yourself that permission.”
Katherine calls grief Mr. Toad’s wild ride because it is all over the place, filled with all kinds of nuances and changes from moment to moment.
Tangible Tools to use while Dealing with Grief During the Holidays
Katherine suggests creating a small ritual to remember the person who has been lost. When Katherine lost her husband right around Christmas time, she left an empty chair at the holiday table.
They were able to gather with love and still acknowledge the loss they felt.
Katherine describes losing her husband 10 days before Christmas as “unspeakably horrible.” While she was beyond sad, it was her idea to honor him at the Christmas dinner.
She also lost her dad on Christmas Eve when she was eight years old. She describes waking up on Christmas Day and unwrapping gifts, including the ones that had been wrapped for her dad. In retrospect, she says she wishes they wouldn’t have done that.
However, Katherine acknowledges that everyone has their own way of managing unspeakable grief.
For some people, continuing to have the holiday will be helpful.
If you are trying to decide what to do for your holiday, she counsels to listen to yourself, to listen to your intuition and your heart, to decide what works for you.
“If Christmas is going to help you, and celebrating is going to help you and hold you because you’re maintaining a tradition then by all means – do it, but if you’d rather skip over it completely… then don’t.” Katherine said as she describes loss as a sacred time of change and disruption.
More in this episode:
- Managing grief as a parent starting at 20 minutes in the conversation
- What a loss is and how we can grieve so many things
- What the “gifts of grief” are
Mentioned in this Episode:
- Learn how a woman has found a place for grief and joy after the loss of her husband in this episode
- Read about how forgiveness was part of moving forward after the loss of one woman’s daughter in the horrible Sandy Hook shooting