“Have a holly, jolly Christmas,” so the song goes, and what people strive to do during “the best time of the year” on their perfectly curated Instagram posts. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but some of us are having a sad and mad Christmas, suffering from the loss of a loved one, job or other deeply personal thing. And guess, what? It’s OK to be real and feel all the feels. That’s just the truth. The truth can hurt, but it can also heal.
While I feel at peace with losing my Dad, aunt and two beloved grandmothers within a year’s time nearly two decades ago, every October, like the weather turning colder and leaves changing color, my happiness level falls and I feel the blues. I learned to embrace the range of emotions and grief. It’s OK to not feel guilty for feeling happy one moment and sad when a trigger, like a song or smell, brings you to tears because it reminds you of someone you lost.
About a year and a half ago, I experienced one of the worst moments in my life. My brother-in-law Chris committed suicide. My sister and my niece, who was 8 at the time, found his body in their living room bloodied from the self-inflicted gunshot wound. I took the next flight from San Francisco to Ft. Myers, Florida. I will never forget the helplessness, breathlessness and deep sadness while holding the kiddos tight for hours as their cries turned into loud howls. I had no answers to their tough, raw questions like, “Uncle Toan, if Dad loved me and wants me to have a good future, why would he do this?”
Knowing nothing could soothe their questions and immense pain, I just said, “I love you and so did he. It was his sickness that killed him. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
I still feel gut punched and winded when I talk about this.
It’s inevitable we will all suffer some sort of loss or pain that is magnified during the holidays, but I’ve learned to be kinder to myself and let myself be and feel what I need.
People ask me how I got through such tragedies, especially this time of year. As Oprah said, “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” So here are some things I’ve learned. This is not a holiday survival guide, and everything listed may not resonate, so take them all to heart or à la carte.
You Do You, Boo
If you don’t feel like celebrating the holidays, don’t! Say no. Don’t deck the halls. Don’t go to that party. And if you’ve already committed, it’s OK to say, “I can’t go anymore.” Don’t buy gifts if you’re not feeling it. Don’t say yes to hosting Christmas dinner if your heart says no. If you feel like being sad at home with your partner or friend or dog or cat, do that. It’s OK.
But if you’re grieving someone, know that person wouldn’t want you to be sad forever. Do things that lift your spirit. Go for a walk. Exercise and move your body.
I know the next one may sound counterintuitive, but give it a try.
When you’re down, it is helpful and empowering to turn that frown upside down. If you’re feeling like you’re done sulking, go out and help others. True joy comes in giving. You’ll see that other people are struggling and you are not in this alone. It shifts your perspective. Could lift your spirits and gifts you with the reality that we all hurt but we have the capability to share love.
Donate to a Cause
If you’ve lost a pet and want to honor your four-legged family member, donate in his/her name to a local shelter. If your loved one loved kids or music, give in their name to a nonprofit or cause that they supported. Set that tradition so you can say, “I remember and honor their life.”
Do What Brings You to the Present Moment
We all grieve differently. Only you know what truly brings you joy. Make time for it in your calendar and try doing it with someone you love being around. Here are some things I enjoy:
• Nature. Go on a walk/hike/bike
• Writing, whether journaling, writing a blog or a thank you letter. Or just free write and see what surfaces. For me, it’s cathartic and healing
• Art. I like to decorate, rearrange my furniture and arrange flowers. Simply creating brings me to the present moment.
• Exercise. Boost your mood, libido and energy. Just. Do. It!
Just a reminder that it’s OK to say no.
Read/watch something inspiring
I love seeing inspiring things. I try to read something each morning to start my day right. It could be a book or on Instagram.
Here are some books that bring me joy:
• “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz
• “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle
• “What I Know For Sure” by Oprah
• “Slowing Down to the Speed of Life” by Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey
• “Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui” by Karen Kingston
• “You Are a Badass” by Jen Sincero
Want a laugh? Watch ellentube. Need deep inspiration? Search for “Oprah” on YouTube. They both have amazing commencement speeches to boost your spirits! I love following them and these other lightworkers on IG:
• The Good Quotes (@thegoodquotes.c)
• Marianne Williamson (@mariannewilliamson)
• Byron Katie (@byron.katie)
• Dogs of Instagram (@dogsofinstagram)
• The Pollination Project (@thepollinationproject)
• Jada Pinkett Smith (@jadapinkettsmith)
• Tara Stiles (@tarastiles
• Steve Hartman (@stevehartmancbs)
• Oprah Winfrey (@oprah)
• Ellen DeGeneres (@theellenshow)
• Kalen Allen (@thekalenallen)
• The Sheri + Nancy Show (@sheriandnancy)
• Joyce Meyer (@joycemeyer)
• Shonda Rhimes (@shondarhimes)
Attitude of Gratitude
Log the thank yous. If you’re into writing, preserve your thoughts in a gratitude journal. Some people do it in the morning, some at night. If you don’t have time to journal, use a computer or phone app. What I learned is that when we pay attention to good things in life, we become more aware of the miracles and blessings around us, which lead to more blessings. When you are in an abundant state of mind, more abundance comes.
You Are Not Alone
No matter what you are going through, you are not alone. If you feel the need to talk to a loved one, join a support group, see a psychologist or psychiatrist etc., DO IT. Everyone goes through challenges and loss. What is important is what we learn from challenges, which exist to grow us, and have a trusting community to help us through them.
I hope this blog adds a little more light to your holiday. We all deal with the hustle and bustle of the holidays in different ways. Please share your thoughts on how you get through hard times during the holidays. Bless you and your loved ones.