Heartbreak

3 Ways To Grieve During The Holidays When It Feels Like Your Grief Has No Place To Go

Photo: Zivica Kerkez/shutterstock
grieving woman in the darkness with Christmas tree

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s passing. It's difficult to move, speak, make my morning coffee.

It occurs to me that I’m grieving. As if I don’t have enough going on. Yes, I’m grieving, but I’m also dealing with the addiction epidemic within the pandemic.

Due to the stress of the pandemic, the numbers of those drinking and drugging are snowballing, resulting in a growing number of overdoses both from drugs and from alcohol.

The pressure on frontline staff is immense. I have to get it together. Others are counting on me.

RELATED: How To Cope With Grief When You've Suffered From A Devastating Loss

Grief during the holidays has nowhere to go.

I’m outwardly fighting the good fight. Inwardly, today, I’m crumbling, but without my normal outlets for support. I can’t host a family gathering where we can hug, cry, laugh, share pictures, stories, and favorite foods, where we can bring my mother alive within our family.

I can’t travel to her gravesite or go to church. Going for a long walk isn’t possible — I’m too scheduled.

So I do what I’ve been doing throughout the pandemic: I distract myself.

Distraction works as a defense for me.

I’m busy with reports, completing an evaluation, phone calls, endless Zoom meetings. I keep telling myself I don’t have time for being sad. But my sadness, like a mist, surrounds me.

As I push through to accomplish my Very Important Goals, my memories are whispering, calling to me, saying, "You need to be still, be sad, and cry."

Despite my most strenuous efforts, I can’t seem to shake off this ache.

My grief is there waiting for me, bringing back my last moments with my mother in the nursing home, remembering how proudly she said her last words before she lapsed into days of silence.

I'm with her in all the fullness of sadness and love — and I'm in my life. I’m present to the memories of the past, both happy and sad ones, as I try to focus on what lies before me today.

This is the very definition of grief: Grief is a process of being alive to the sadness of the past as we're moving through the present.

We are all grieving.

I wonder why my grieving today is so intense — it’s not like this is the first or fifth anniversary of my mother’s passing. 

Then I answer my question: My grieving today is so deep, so all-encompassing because the world is grieving.

COVID-19 is everywhere. People are dying everywhere. The grief around me magnifies my own grief, for me and for so many others.

RELATED: The 5 Stages Of Grief — Plus 6 We Don't Realize Are Part Of The Grieving Process

We are all dealing with the holiday grief of pandemic sadness that intensifies all other losses.

What I know not to be true, I tell myself, "Your grief shouldn’t be as bad as it is for someone who has just lost their mother, but the truth is there’s no way to portion our grief. Loss is loss."

Our sadness is real whether what we're grieving happened just now or years ago. I know I’ll be able to get back to my normal way of functioning. I have in the past.

But being surrounded by the mounting death toll, knowing of so many others who have just lost or are in the process of losing loved ones, is complicating my grieving, and that of true for all of us.

Gradually, I focus on what I can do now to self-parent, to take care of myself — simple, immediate things.

Here are 3 ways to grieve this holiday season when it feels like your grief has no place to go.

1. Reaffirm a new way of honoring your lost loved one.

My mother taught me to fight and not give in. I remember this and smile. I recommit to my work of which she was so proud, and can now focus.

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2. Share your pain.

A member of a weekly support group I attend shares the one-year anniversary of attending her father’s virtual wake. I take this as a sign. I share, "Today is the anniversary of my mother’s passing. I too am grieving."

We sigh together. Two other members share that they are also marking the anniversary of a parent’s passing. Another member shares that she is about to lose her mother-in-law.

In this Zoom group where we don’t know each other’s last names, over half of us are grieving during this holiday season. Speaking about it helps.

3. Spread joy.

My young grandchildren live in Los Angeles. I live in rural New York; the physical distance between us is too far. This is another level of my ongoing sadness, intensifying today’s grief during the holidays.

I consider what I can do and make a plan to go to a toy store. I encourage myself to not only think of what I’d like to give my grandchildren but to focus on the other children in my life, children who are closer.

These are the adolescents in the long-term alcohol and drug rehabilitation center where I consult, teens who, along with addiction, often have long-standing issues of child abuse, which they've been self-medicating.

One has been smoking meth with her father, another has been shooting up since her mother taught her how. Both have been using drugs since grade school. And there are others.

I decided to buy gifts for those who I know will be in rehab over Christmas. Knowing that I can help touch the vulnerable child in them brings me joy, and hope, which I need.

Acknowledging our sorrow and taking simple, concrete steps to bring support and joy into our lives can help us heal our grief during the holidays.

RELATED: How To Recognize And Overcome Your Grief Triggers In 5 Steps

Patricia A O'Gorman, Ph.D is a trauma and addiction psychologist, speaker, and author of 9 books on women, resiliency, and self-parenting. Learn more on her website.

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This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.