Opinion & Editorial

Being with grief

The holiday season can be both a joyful time of year filled with celebration and togetherness, as well as an incredibly emotional and painful time.

For those who have lost loved ones, the holidays can be a stark reminder of the absence of those we love and can serve as another milestone that marks the passage of time. 

Having lost loved ones myself, I feel their absence most keenly during the holidays when our focus turns culturally toward celebrating with family and friends. It can feel challenging to hold the “holiday cheer” while also making space for the deep sense of loss and sadness. 

When I feel my grief rising, I remember a quote from the Dalai Lama XIV that I read in the Book of Joy, “…grief is the reminder of the depth of our love. Without love, there is no grief. So when we feel our grief, uncomfortable and aching as it may be, it is actually a reminder of the beauty of that love, now lost.” 

When we learn to be with our feelings of loss and longing, we also allow ourselves to hold the rich memories and depth of love that is the flip side of the coin. 

Grief is one of those feelings many of us don’t know how to be with — whether it’s our own grief or the grief of another. 

It can be overwhelming. 

It can be disorienting. 

It can be paralyzing. 

How can we hold what feels impossible to be with? Perhaps as a fear response or act of defiance, many of us need to “fix” grief and fill the void as quickly as possible. Yet, grief is not a problem to be solved: it is a process to be tended to and lived through. 

We can all benefit from learning how to be with grief. Frances O’Connor, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, believes that grieving is a form of learning that helps us adapt to a world that feels like it is missing something. 

Inevitably, we will all experience loss. From losing a loved one to losing a pet; a job, or even a beloved natural area, we all will navigate and feel these losses with varying degrees of acuity. 

As Julia Samuel notes in her book, Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death, and Surviving, “There is no right or wrong in grief; we need to accept whatever form it takes, both in ourselves and in others.” 

Healing is not linear, and the grief process can look different for everyone. Just as we all love in our own way, we mourn in our own way too. A vital part of any grieving process is to allow the pain to exist without trying to ignore it, rush through it, or avoid it. 

We may never “get over” our grief, but we can make peace with it. We may never “move on” from our grief, but we can learn to live with it. Grief is easier to hold when we don’t feel isolated or alone with it. 

This holiday season, in the spirit of togetherness, I invite you to consider how to be with grief as a community. If you’re supporting someone with their grief, validate their feelings and allow them the space to express and be with their pain. Focus on how you can minimize their suffering. Help if help is needed and wanted, but be mindful of not offering unsolicited advice. Listen, be patient, and remember to take care of yourself as well. Bearing witness to grief can be painful and exhausting for those in support roles. Be sure to fill your own cup so you can continue to show up and fill the cup of those you care about.

If you are grieving, hold yourself with compassion, grace, and care. Acknowledge your feelings without judgment, no matter the form they may take. Lean on your support networks and communicate your needs with them. They may not fully understand what you are going through, but being open about your grief process can help them help you. Consider modifying holiday traditions to honor the memory of your loved one while giving yourself space to grieve in a meaningful way. 

And importantly, prioritize self-care by maintaining a healthy routine, getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in activities that bring you relaxation and joy. 

Grief can be profoundly challenging — especially when we feel alone in navigating it. Perhaps the holidays, a time of year so focused on being together and celebrating connection, can also be an opportunity to come together around grief and loss. Let us celebrate the love that is the flip side of grief, and collectively hold the sadness that can be magnified during this time of year.

Ari Kosel  is a certified professional coach and intern at Center for Community Counseling. She wrote this for The Chronicle.

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