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Along with holidays comes a mixture of sadness and joy. This is the time of the year for gathering with family and those you love while celebrating the Messiah. However for some it can be quite difficult to be joyful when you are grieving over the loss of someone you loved who can’t be there to share in the festivities with you. I recently spoke with Vernessa Blackwell who served in the military as a Senior Non Commissioned Officer helping soldiers with issues relating to death.

“For over two decades I served in the military; I served my country proudly as a Senior Non Commissioned Officer. Helping soldiers was my vocational calling and I loved every moment; as a Senior Operations Non Commissioned Officer. I helped soldiers on a daily basis for over 24yrs. I assisted families and soldiers with issues related to death, bereavement and grief. I can recall a time when a soldier’s mom passed away and he was on deployment. I contacted Red Cross to get the message to the soldier. Once the soldier was back in the states there was no life insurance policy. We put the soldier’s family in touch with the Army Aid Society where he obtained a no interest loan to bury his mother.”

What started you passion for wanting to help others through the grieving process?

Every moment I spent gave me life and in this I discovered my life’s purpose– helping other’s overcome grief. I personally dealt with the unwarranted condition caused by the loss of loved ones- I loss both parents and 4 siblings over the past few years. My passion to help restore, rebuild and revive others birthed my boutique “The Grief Helpline,” along with a collection of books. I am working to contact as many organizations, companies, and FEMA to be of service to those who are in need. I truly believe in my heart, my true purpose is to service, in times when people need help the most.

What is your definition of grief?

Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. Often, the pain of loss can feel overwhelming. You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. The pain of grief can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think straight. These are normal reactions to loss—and the more significant the loss, the more intense your grief will be.”

Coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of life’s biggest challenges. You may associate grieving with the death of a loved one which is often the cause of the most intense type of grief but any loss can cause grief, including:        

Death of a family member

Divorce and the loss of a relationship

Loss of health

Losing a job

Loss of financial stability

A Miscarriage

Retirement

Death of a pet

Loss of a cherished dream

“Even subtle losses in life can trigger a sense of grief. For example, you might grieve after moving away from home, graduating from college, or changing jobs. Whatever your loss, it’s personal to you, so don’t feel ashamed about how you feel, or believe that it’s somehow only appropriate to grieve for certain things. If the person, animal, relationship, or situation was significant to you, it’s normal to grieve the loss you’re experiencing. Whatever the cause of your grief, though, the tools I have can help you to cope with the pain that, in time will ease your sadness and help you to restore Joy, find new meaning, and eventually move on with your life.

This time of year, during the holidays, what can people do to help their loved one who may be grieving?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” the song tells us. But if you’re dealing with grief — namely the death of a loved one — the holiday season can become a barrage of painful reminders that your life isn’t what you had hoped. Being surrounded by holiday joy and cheer, you may feel overwhelmed by a calendar full of traditions that remind you of your loss, or pressured by how you think you “should” feel, or perhaps tempted to numb the pain. No matter what Hallmark says, the holidays are a stressful time, even for people who aren’t dealing with grief.

Our expectation is that holidays are the time when family comes together, but if someone you love has died, it’s going to be harder because you have this expectation of what you want it to be. The discrepancy between how things are and how we want them to be is more prevalent in the holiday season.

Rather than resisting the reality of grief during the holidays, work toward a version of your experience that addresses what you need to honor your feelings — whatever they are. 

Here are six steps to help you handle grief at this time of year.

  • Feel your Feelings.

The first step is to acknowledge what you’re experiencing as a normal emotion. What we resist persists, If you try to force it or fix it, it makes it worse and will make the grief last longer.

Give yourself and those you love compassion and kindness. There’s no right way to experience grief, no “appropriate” amount of time in which you have to “get over it.” “It’s really about giving yourself permission to be exactly where you are, and not to feel that you have to be someplace else in your grieving process.

Plan ahead.

It’s easy to get swept up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, especially if you’re emotionally stressed. But having a bit of control over your circumstances makes the grieving process easier, and knowing what’s coming can lessen the overwhelm. Schedule free time on your calendar so you can exercise or take a walk or care for yourself in whatever way you need.

If you’re going to an office party or family gathering that you suspect will be difficult, take along a grief buddy. That’s a friend who can be your wing person, monitor alcohol intake, and maneuver a quick exit if you start flagging, or perhaps make a plan for immediately after the event, like debriefing over tea with a friend or snuggling with your pet. Seek out folks who can listen without judgment or advice, who can be “a heart with ears.

Learn to say No. 

The holiday traditions you used to adore can feel like a burden when you’re already struggling. It’s OK to take a break from making the cranberry sauce or attending annual parties, especially obligations that bring up too many painful memories or make you feel spread thin. Let go of traditions that aren’t serving you now, and know that you can always resume them another year. Steer clear of relatives who may be especially triggering for you.

You might want to replace the usual Black Friday shopping with a service trip or volunteering for a cause that resonates with the person you’re mourning.

Put your physical body first. 

People face higher risk of injury or death in the year after losing a loved one. That’s partly because of reduced immune functioning due to the stress, and partly because you’re more prone to accidents when exhausted and distracted. Guard against this by giving your body good nutrition, adequate sleep, and movement — any kind of movement, even if you’re not up for your usual exercise routine. One of the things that surprises people who are grieving is that you don’t always get that immediate boost you’re used to from exercising, “You can feel as though this feeling that you’ve known your whole life is abandoning you when you need it most. Moving your body still helps; it just might feel different.”

In fact, group fitness classes are one of the few places you can connect with other people without feeling pressure to put on a happy face or play a certain role. You get all the connection that comes from moving together and breathing together and sweating together. This can also ward off the tendency mourners might have to isolate themselves at a time when human connection can be so healing.

Get Support. 

Even if a group fitness class doesn’t speak to you during this time, find a way to resist the common impulse to become isolated in grief. You need the help and support of your family and friends, and you’re not a burden. Every human experiences grief. It’s one of our most shared, fundamental emotional experiences. Human beings are naturally resilient, considering most of us can endure loss and then continue on with our own lives. But some people may struggle with grief for longer periods of time and feel unable to carry out daily activities. Those with severe grief may be experiencing complicated grief. 

The Grief Helpline offers professional support, whether through coaching, support groups, or services provided for one on one coaching. Check www.griefhelpline.coach for announcements, or try your local mental-health associations. One good resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which can offer referrals to grief resources, counselors, and groups. The Grief Helpline Devotional and Grief Kit is also available on the www.griefhelpline.coach website.

Take Action. 

I teach people to communicate the unsaid emotions or messages to a loss loved one. We carry these things with us that we didn’t have a chance to tell the other person — things we didn’t have a chance to do that we desperately wanted to do, We identify what we wish had been better or different and then we can take some actions around those emotions, he says. You can find closure by acknowledging and sharing your conflicted feelings, perhaps by writing a letter to your loved one or talking with a trusted friend about what you’ve been thinking.

You can also find ways to honor your loved ones, such as putting pictures on a table by the door, where you can pause in a moment of mindfulness. Or perhaps create a new holiday tradition in remembrance of them, or simply let yourself feel their presence during the season. They’re no longer physically here; how do we continue our love even though they’re physically absent?

Fore more on the Grief Help Line, click here!

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Featured image provided by Vernessa Blackwell