Untraditional: Navigating grief and the holidays in the middle of a pandemic
Dealing with the loss of a loved one is never easy. But in 2020 …
well, let us just say that for most of us, there has never been a year
with so much loss, and so few outlets for our grief.
Funerals did not happen, or if they did, they were via Zoom. High school
graduates never got their graduation ceremony or prom. Goodbyes to classmates,
teachers, friends and coworkers were swift, with no one knowing that in
some cases, we would never see each other again.
And now, with the holiday season near, many of us are finding that the
old traditions we loved so much cannot happen due to travel restrictions
or worries about gathering in large groups. Without our loved ones around,
we can feel even lonelier, especially if some of them have passed away.
That brings the grief we might have felt months ago right back.
One way to deal with so much loss is to talk about it, according to Kent
Mishler, Kaweah Delta’s Director of Chaplain and Volunteer Services.
“Part of grief is the gathering and the opportunity to memorialize
people,” he explained. But that has been different in 2020.
People who could not have a funeral for a loved one instead talked on the
phone with family and planned for a get-together later. But “now
it’s a lot later. It’s never,” he said. “It’s
been long enough that it’s never going to happen.”
Death is not the only thing bringing grief to our lives. The world has
thrown so many challenges our way during the pandemic. For adults, the
issue may be taking care of children at home and balancing the needs or
aging parents. “It’s really difficult, all these things, and
we don’t know how to handle it,” Mishler said.
Children are struggling, too, not being able to go back to school and losing
familiar routines. The places, people, or things that would have comforted
them in their grief are gone, making their emotional health more fragile
Traditions may not occur this year, but we can tell the stories of our
parents and our heritage, Mishler says, so the next generation knows how
it used to be. “They need to hear about grandma and grandpa back
in the good old days,” he says, since they cannot gather to reminisce.
Part of processing grief is doing traditional things, and it is okay to
feel happiness and joy in your activities. So put up more decorations
than usual, gather your family together and do something positive. Your
neighbors will also feel the love and peace seeing the decorations.
For those who need more help processing their grief this time of year,
Kaweah Delta’s Bereavement Team offers its annual “Grief and
the Holidays” workshop, hosted virtually on November 19 and available
online to watch at your convenience at
kaweahdelta.org/grief2020. This annual program, around for about 15 years, has moved to an online
format this year, and will focus primarily on the impacts caused by COVID-19.
For those grieving the loss of a loved one, Mishler has some suggestions.
First, use the name of the deceased. “As you use the name, it dulls
down that sharp edge. ‘My husband, Fred, died.’” Similarly,
do not use euphemisms such as “went to a better place” or
“left me.” Those words won’t fill the hole inside you
when someone is gone, and it may create questions in the mind of the person
you are speaking with.
And think about how this year offered opportunities, not just loss. Are
there traditions that you do because you feel like you have to, even though
no one really likes them? Here is the chance to make some new traditions
that better fit your current lifestyle and desires. You do not have to
make Grandma’s sweet potato recipe or read “A Visit from St.
Nicholas” anymore if you don’t want to.
Finally, know your limits. If you don’t have the emotional bandwidth
to do something, say you cannot do it. If you do go to an event or to
visit others, have an exit strategy, a code word or signal that lets someone
know you need to leave.
Be kind. Everyone is going through something this year. “I know we’re
going to get through this,” Mishler says. “You may feel like
you are behind where you feel you should be but you have to move forward
at your own pace.”
So step back and take back what you lost. Say goodbye to the classmates
you did not get to graduate with, the friends who had to move away, and
celebrate loved ones who’ve passed away. Let people know you miss
them. Rejoice in what is, design your own holiday.
And wish for a better 2021 for everyone.
The mission of Kaweah Delta Hospice is to provide physical, emotional,
social, and spiritual support to terminally ill patients, as well as their
families and loved ones, while assisting patients and families to live
with dignity and comfort as they cope with end-of-life issues. Learn more