In the Christian tradition, Advent – the liturgical time leading up to the birth of Jesus is filled with anticipation. Each Sunday a candle is lit during worship, bringing the community words of encouragement in the waiting. For children, the air is filled with the excitement and possibilities of what Santa will bring. Calendars and schedules are abuzz with events, details, shopping, the arrival of guests or anticipated travel to be with family in far-off places. Christmas can feel as it if has a momentum all its own. But, for the tender hearts of the bereaved, the season can feel overwhelming.
Often the expectations of others are very high; family and friends may look for the same level of energy and enthusiasm as previous holidays. And, they may look to the new family patriarch or matriarch to step in or step up and create that same sacred space – the entire family gathered around the Norman Rockwell table set to perfection with a golden turkey in the center.
These expectations along with a heaping serving of “aren’t you getting over it?” can leave one feeling isolated and alone. It can be hard to find a sense of connection to the past, present and most certainly the unknowns of a future without your loved one present. The tension between expectation and anticipation can leave the bereaved struggling to find a place of comfort.
No wonder the holidays feel so hard after the loss of a loved one. Finding room to take care of oneself, to sit with emotions that range from raw to deep, deep sadness can be so very challenging. It can be so hard to know how to take care of yourself, let alone others around you who themselves may be in pain, too.
Perhaps there is one key question to keep asking yourself and others this season: what would feel comforting? Give yourself permission to ask this question over and over again. To ask it in any given moment – what would feel comforting right now? And, then, in that permission to say yes and no to things that don’t feel comforting.
Saying no is a necessary strategy for guarding your tender heart. Say no to things that don’t feel easy to do. Say no to things that will require more energy than you have available in the moment. Say no when you feel overwhelmed or in too much pain to participate – when even the thought of attending an event is overwhelming.
Say yes, too. Say yes to putting yourself first this particular holiday season. Your needs are very different this season – so it is okay to put yourself at the top of the list. Say yes to things that feel like they will feed your tender soul. Say yes to being with those precious few people who can appreciate and support you exactly where you are. Say yes to rest, extra sleep, healthy eating and regular exercise, silence, meditation and any other practices that will support your body and aching spirit.
And, give yourself permission to say yes – and then later say no. Let someone know you are planning to attend their gathering with the caveat that if you don’t feel the energy for it on the day of the event, you will call and let them know you cannot come. Give yourself permission to change your mind and the grace to see your needs as fluid and changing. Your friends and family may or may not support you in these difficult decisions. Trust your instincts.
This holiday season; nurture yourself as generously as you would another in your circumstances.
The Advent Wreath picture is being used via Creative Commons:
By Liesel (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons