Coping with a loss during the holidays
“The passing of my grammy caused a lot of issues that eventually led to certain members of the family not speaking to one another for years. It's 2014 and this divide is still present within my family.” As hard as it is for Victoria to accept that things may never be the same, she and her family make the best of their holidays and gatherings by sharing memories of holidays past.
Victoria is plagued by the death of a loved one during the holidays, but Vernalette Smith-Rosa believes her case is worse.
“The lying, the cheating, the bad decisions concerning our finances were more than any person should have to deal with, but I really loved this man.”
Married for 19 years and 28 days, it was the love her ex-husband had for God that Vernalette fell in love with, but her love for God is what helped her leave. Vernalette recalls spending the holidays in Chicago with her ex’s family. The smell of food, sound of laughter and the presence of love from her in-laws are all a faint reminiscence. While the divorce was best for the couple, memories were all she had during the lonely holidays as the two coordinated time to share their two children.
Times have gotten better and prayer helped Vernalette get through her divorce, along with meditation and therapy.
“When you have this kind of love and commitment, you pray, and pray and allow God to hold your hand through it all.”
Therapy isn’t very common for coping, but Ashley Frazier, a Marriage and Family Therapist, believes that it should be. Ashley has clients who need help coping with a range of losses and the loss of a relationship is closely related to the loss of a loved one by death. She says that getting over the pain is the first step and having a qualified person to talk to and help sort through the pain is a great addition.
“Most people don’t seek therapy, but still go through the chaos. Instead, they usually go through the situation in unhealthy ways like trying to cover it up, trying to replace the person, dwelling on the situation and making it bigger than what it is.”
The holidays are usually blissful occasions, but Ashley says a loss can cause a painful, somber and dark shadow covering up the happy memories. This can change the meaning of a holiday for a person.
“If someone is farther along in the stages of grief, they may look at holidays as a time to remember their loved ones and reflect on the good moments that they have shared with them,” says Ashley. “Someone who is heavily burdened by grief, despite the amount of time that has passed, will approach holidays with dread. They miss their loved ones during the holidays as it represents happy times that they have shared with that person that could never happen again.”
The stages of grief, while normally used in relation to death, are also related to the loss of a relationship. It is simply an individual’s readiness to move on and accept the loss, understand the loss and cope with unresolved issues. A persons’ reaction to their loss may also be closely tied to the boundaries established, or the way they interact, with the person. If the two were extremely close, what is called an enmeshed boundary, and depended on one another emotionally and physically, Ashley says that when dealing with the loss, one may be left with a void that they do not know how to fill. Those who have either clear boundaries, healthy, emotional relationships without becoming dependent; or disengaged and rigid boundaries, relationships without an emotional connection; will handle the loss better than someone with enmeshed boundaries.
“As a Marriage and Family Therapist, the whole [family] system is looked at in every situation. It is everything around one person that shapes them and their ability to move on. Becoming a stronger person in every aspect of your life should be the main focus after any type of separation.”
To replace that happy melody that your heart once skipped to, Ashley suggests making new memories instead of trying to forget. Forgetting what happened is not dealing with the situation and leaves room for it to resurface. Use time as a coping mechanism and figure out what was lost by that person’s absence and work on filling that void. This should help you shake those holiday blues and get on track to something a little more upbeat.