When you lose a loved one there can be triggers that bring back emotions you had thought were managed and controlled. Holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be one of those triggers. After my grandmother passed away, I attended a group therapy session that was specifically targeted for individuals who were mourning during the holidays. Below are a few topics we discussed in those sessions:
It’s OK to be sad.
My motivator to attend a group therapy session before the holidays season was so that I could enjoy the holidays and would not dampen anyone else’s holidays either. While the therapy sessions helped me figure out some helpful coping and managing techniques, a big take away message for me was that it was OK to be sad over the holidays. I didn’t have to eliminate or hide my sadness from myself or anyone else. When I fully accepted that it was not selfish to display feelings of sadness, a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. While I still felt sadness, it was easier to enjoy the holiday after accepting my genuine feelings.
Faking it till you make it can help though.
This may sound contradictory to the previous point, but wearing a fake smile or forcing yourself to laugh at a joke that you know in the past you would have laughed at can help. After acknowledging and accepting your sadness, tricking your body, like wearing a smile or sitting up straight, can, even for a brief time, make you feel genuine joy. Altering your outward appearance from your inner feelings can ease people’s feelings around you as well. Doing these little changes does not disguise your sadness, but allows one to live with sadness.
The holidays will not be the same.
Accepting that celebrations, like Mother’s Day or a birthday, will not be the same was a turning point for me. There were traditions we did with our loved ones which my family still continues do. Other traditions we used to do are more difficult to continue. One way to fill these spaces is to make new traditions. When I was shopping for Christmas presents for my family, I felt terrible not buying my grandmother a present. I found an initiative called Be a Santa to a Senior. Local senior homes were organizing this initiative and partnering corporations, like Shoppers Drug Mart and Starbucks, also took part in it. In these stores there were paper ornaments hanging from a tree. On these ornaments were written senior names and two gift suggestions. The goal for Be a Santa to a Senior was for every senior to open a gift over the holidays. You would pick an ornament and then come back to that same store with an unwrapped gift with the paper ornament attached about 2 weeks before Christmas. Volunteering or helping others, whether strangers, neighbors or family members, can be new traditions you can instill in your celebrations.
Writing out your feelings.
Sometimes a person can feel overwhelmed by their emotions. Any form of communication can ease these feelings to make them more manageable to handle. Writing a letter to a loved one who has passed away and to myself helps me. You can keep, mail or recycle the letter. The act of writing your feelings down is therapeutic.
Mourning does not have an expiration date.
I attended the group therapy session a year after my grandmother passed away. At that time when I heard a saying my grandmother used to say, a song or see an older woman walking down the street, my heart would race. Memories and feelings for my grandmother would rush throughout my whole body at such a fast rate that I would become immobile. If a visual cue caught my eye I would do a double take. However, feelings of happiness and nostalgia would quickly turn to sadness and loss. After a year of these weekly triggers occurring I decided to find a group session. I mistakenly thought that I was not managing my grief properly. An important lesson I learned from everyone at the session was no matter how much time has passed there is never an expiration date for your grief. While time does help manage your grief, I mourn for my loved ones everyday. Learning how to live rather than eliminate with this grief is needed.
Two factors hindered me from attending therapy sooner than I did: expense and my social anxiety. Therapy can be a huge expense. I am currently a student, so I was fortunate to have resources and services of grief counselling available to me that was free of charge. At the end of each session the coordinators offered alternative resources if you chose to go elsewhere for a session, such as community centers in your neighborhood. Community centers can be a great resource to also find available mental health clinics. Alongside the expense, I was hesitant of going to therapy because of my social anxiety. I dreaded speaking to a stranger about my feelings and memories. A group therapy session helped me because I felt that not all the focus and attention was placed upon myself. Being part of a group therapy session was also a huge part of the therapy itself because it allowed me to listen to other people’s lived experiences and share my own techniques.
About Hilary M
Hilary M is a twenty-something Toronto student who is living with social anxiety. She considers herself an ally with people living with disabilities and enjoys working and volunteering at organizations that secure human rights and accessibility for all individuals.