It is the holiday season. All around us are commercials, advertisements, and decorations promoting “Holiday Cheer!” We are inundated with expectations of joy and happiness on television, radio, and the internet. However, some of us may have a heavy heart due to losing a loved one and need encouragement. Grief around the holidays is often intensified as we see others with their family and friends, which reminds us of that space left by losing someone dear to us. This year is significantly compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic creating barriers in visiting sick loved ones, saying final goodbyes, and holding memorial services. Guilt from these barriers can cause sleeplessness and the inability to enjoy usual activities.
In 2011, I lost my mother around Mother’s day, her sister in October, and her mom around Thanksgiving. Nine years later, it still hurts, and I still have many lingering questions. Why all of them? Why so closely together? Why my loved ones? What I have grown to learn is that everyone, at some point, will experience pain and loss and questions of why. It is how you respond to the ordeal that helps to move the pain into something constructive. While you never get over losing someone close to you, reflecting on those shared traditions or memorable moments and embracing the impact they had on making you who you are can help redirect the sadness to joy. You are a fantastic person with extraordinary gifts that have been instilled in you. Sharing those gifts is one of the most significant tributes that you can make in honor of your loved one.
When you were younger, did you watch your grandmother knit? Did you want to learn how but thought other things were more important? It’s ok. Learn now. Create a bond from the memories and celebrate her life by learning and carrying on one of her joys and teaching it to your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or friends. Become an advocate for a group supporting the cause of disease from which you lost your loved one. If it was a heart attack, organize a fundraiser for the American Heart Association or ask friends and neighbors to do a virtual 30-minute walk with you in that person’s honor to promote physical exercise. Take a moment to look at how that loved one impacted your life. How can you share that great gift your loved one instilled in you with others? Your family and friends that are here need you. Keeping great gifts inside you will cause them to miss out on so many beautiful experiences that only you can bring.
Moving beyond grief and guilt sometimes requires the help of others. You may feel it’s a burden and don’t want to bother friends or family. It is likely that your friends and family are wanting to support you but are not sure how. Let them help you. There are also licensed therapists and counselors who provide excellent support for grief and guilt. Reaching out does not mean you are weak or that you are crazy. You are not alone, and your needs matter. If you need support in managing your grief, the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) have trained staff that can direct you to services in your area at 1-800-662-HELP or 1-800-662-4357. Start making steps in transforming your pain into a magnificent tribute to the one you loved. You are not alone.
Crystal A. Smith Maxwell, MD, MBA, FAAFP. She is the founder & CEO of LIGHT Family Wellness, LLC.