During the holidays, overcoming grief can be extremely difficult. You may have lost a loved one during the holidays, or maybe the holidays remind you of the great times you had when they were around. It’s completely normal to feel like you coped with your grief in a healthy way, only to have those feelings of sadness come up again during the holidays. What you are feeling is completely normal and a part of a process that everyone goes through when they are grieving.
There are 5 stages of grief including: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. The stages do not necessarily go in order; sometimes certain stages are skipped; but ultimately acceptance lies at the end of these stages. Acceptance does not mean that the death was “okay” or “acceptable.” Instead, acceptance means you acknowledge that your loved one is physically gone and you are adapting to the new norm.
At the holiday season, birthdays, or reminders of your loved one, you can easily slip back into one (or more) of these stages. Here are the stages of grief which can bring you clarity; along with some ways to work through these difficult times during the holidays.
Denial is the first stage which typically happens when you are first informed that a loved one has died. You become shocked and overwhelmed with the information. In this stage, you may not feel some of the other feelings, like depression or anger, that are often associated with grief. Instead, the denial and shock act as a protective barrier before the other feelings begin to surface.
It is normal and even encouraged to feel angry during the healing process. Allow yourself to feel anger and don’t fight it. You may be angry at yourself for feeling like you did not do enough to protect and help them. You may feel angry at a caregiver or doctor for believing they didn’t do everything in their power to save their life. And, it’s possible you may feel angry at God for believing that God took away your loved one. Anger is something that you hold onto during your period of grieving and helps lead into the deeper emotions that you will experience to process your grief. To work through this stage in the holiday season, try your hardest not to take out your anger on your family and friends. They are your support system and they will be your biggest help throughout your grieving.
Bargaining typically happens before the death of a loved one, if it is apparent that they may die. You may say, “I’ll treat them so much better if they could just live passed this phase.” Or after a loss, you may bargain with God hoping that the person may be able to be alive again. Bargaining stems from the feeling of guilt that you could have done differently to keep your loved one from dying. It’s normal to have these feelings and to believe that you can bargain yourself out of the feelings associated with grief.
Depression is a major part of the grieving process and is not a sign that you have a mental health diagnosis. To the contrary, depression is another normal part of grieving. There is no set amount of time that you “should” be in this stage and it is nothing to be “fixed” by others. Some close friends and relatives may try to help you out of this phase from the goodness of their heart. But, this is a completely natural process for you that will help you towards acceptance.
As reflected in the beginning of this article, acceptance does not mean that the death was “okay” or appropriate in any way. Instead, it means that the loved one is no longer physically present and your life will need to readjust. You may reach acceptance then go back to other phases when reminded of your loved one (especially during the holidays). Typically your loved one played a specific part in your life and you will benefit from keeping your strong connections, forming new relationships, and having better days. This year’s holiday season, remember these stages and know that each one of them have their place in the process.
About The Author
Chris Cummins is a couples counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, Colorado. He focuses on working with with couples in high conflict and couples who are experiencing substance abuse. Living in Colorado, Chris enjoys hiking traveling and anything else outdoors.