by Mary Hesdorffer, Nurse Practitioner
Executive Director, Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation
Having suffered a profound loss can make the holidays appear to be the most dreaded time of year. How do you cope when others around you are caught up in the giddiness of the holidays and you find yourselves perhaps a little resentful of their good cheer? I think a basic principle is that to give is to receive. Perhaps you can volunteer for an organization that has an event during the holidays. This provides you with a ready excuse to reject invitations to events that you are not ready to attend this year and an opportunity to focus on the suffering of others rather than yourself. It is not uncommon to meet others who volunteer during the holidays who also have suffered a loss. It may prove to be fertile ground to establish new friendships in addition to igniting a passion to help others less fortunate than you.
If you do wish to participate in some of the holiday gatherings, establish that you intend to “drop by.” This will provide you with the comfort of knowing that you can leave at any time if it doesn’t feel right or if you begin to feel overwhelmed without having to offer excuses. Mix it up a bit – perhaps stop by a few events, which will keep you moving and interacting on a less focused conversation. The first is always the roughest. Perhaps you have a friend who also suffered a loss who would be willing to be your “partner” at these gatherings. You can cover both families and friends, and brining an unfamiliar guest with you will distract the conversation from your loss to a more superficial meet and greet, which is perhaps all you can handle this holiday.
Maybe the best plan of all is an escape. A friend or family member might be a willing partner to travel with to explore an unfamiliar region of the country or perhaps new customs and celebrations in a foreign country. You can be selfish this holiday, and most will understand and give you the space and time needed to heal from your loss.
I just finished reading “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion, and I found it very helpful in understanding the first year. Though many in the community have shared their loss and grief with me, this book presented a very clear insight into the loss and the effect on those left behind. You may read it, or perhaps gift it to someone who wonders what is “wrong with you.” Grief is real; it can be measured by many physical manifestations. The healing process varies from individual to individual with no time frame or expectation to return to the person you once were. It is a time of sadness, personal growth, and emergence and reflection on what was lost, but also a hope that the future is still yours to enjoy.