With the holidays approaching, my heart is heavy. My mother passed away a few years ago, and it seems like every Christmas is clouded with her loss. When will it get better?
Signed: Still Grieving
Dear Still Grieving,
There is no time period for grief. And if anyone suggests otherwise (or perhaps implies that you should be “over it” by now), they are wrong. It’s that simple. We all mourn in our own way and in our own time. The grieving process is messy and painful. And just when you think you might be rising above it, it can hit you with another one-two punch and knock the breath right out of you. Believe it or not, that’s normal and healthy. It’s what we can expect when we lose someone that we care about deeply.
When we compare our own journey of grief with someone else’s, it might appear as though some people are able to bounce back faster than others. That’s perfectly normal too. There are many factors that influence our grieving process. But there is no magic formula that will deliver relief and peace from the pain that we experience with the forever absence of someone who lived in our heart. For many, this kind of mourning happens when a person dies. But for others, the loss of a relationship as a result of a separation or divorce, or a move away, or a falling out of some kind can be just as excruciating.
In many cultures, the number of tears that fall or the loudness of the wails of sadness heard are taken as a direct reflection of the amount of love that was carried for the person who was lost. Others mourn in private, quietly, with no witnesses to their pain. The person’s name could possibly be no longer spoken, personal items and photos might be packed away, and smiles and laughter could be forbidden for a set period of time. There is no standard of mourning that serves everyone equally. You must find your own way of honouring your mother and of allowing the pain of her loss to be experienced and released, if you are to one day truly feel “better”. (To me, “better” is a tricky word – it will just feel different – less painful. Your body and brain will gradually learn how to accommodate the absence of your loved one. Your heart will change from how it felt love for your mother, before the loss.)
As the holidays approach, we can expect our minds will naturally wander to the memories of those who are no longer with us, and to times when they were. Consider your beliefs about where your mother’s spirit/essence might now be. Talk to her (out loud, or through a letter) if you hope she still surrounds you in some way. Perhaps there are things you still need to say/express – things left undone between you that need your attention. Think about the memories that you have of your mother and share them with others – the painful mourning and the past pleasant ones, as you believe is appropriate. Are there perhaps some rituals that will bring you comfort – ways to include your mother’s touch or teachings in your holiday celebrations somehow, so you (and your family) can feel connected to her in some small way? Reflect on ways you can honour her (or her memory) in your celebrations throughout the upcoming season.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Be compassionate to the pain you are feeling. Give yourself the grace to be sad – to be tearful – to be less than cheery when those around seem joyous. Be patient with your feelings and allow them to surface, without judgement or criticism. Don’t pull away or try to disconnect from the feelings you have for your mother – embrace them instead. Avoid substance use and acts of overindulgence that are designed to block off your feelings or to stuff the sadness you might experience. And make time to include extra self care in your day, as your emotional, mental and physical self will need this added consideration.
Know too that it’s okay to not always be thinking of your mother, or sitting in your feelings of loss. You are allowed to feel happy even with the heaviness in your heart. Allow distractions at times, of course, so you are not overwhelmed with pain. Choose ones that refill your energy or allow you some calmness and serenity (not things that will drain you even more). If you can treat yourself like you would treat a friend who has lost their mother, you will be gentle and loving towards your own needs. And that’s really the only way you can expect to move through your grief in a healthy manner.
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