Understand Your Grief In Time For The Holidays

What to expect when you experience a loss

Time after time, I hear those who are grieving say, “I should be over this by now.” While there is no time limit on grief, this is a common feeling to have. Loss and grief are two of the most challenging things to deal with in life, especially during the holiday season.

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Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.
By Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT

Time after time, I hear those who are grieving say, “I should be over this by now.” While there is no time limit on grief, this is a common feeling to have. Loss and grief are two of the most challenging things to deal with in life, especially during the holiday season. For some of us, the holidays might be a reminder of traditions, gifts, or recipes that we shared with our loved ones. For others, this might be the first holiday without them, and the absence of those traditions can be overwhelming.

Stages of Grief

Understanding what you are experiencing can be helpful as you navigate your emotions. While everyone’s experiences are different, there are models that define the general pathway of grief. The Kübler-Ross model identifies five stages of grief, but more recent models include seven.

  • Shock is our initial reaction following bad news.
  • Denial is an attempt to avoid feeling the pain. Often times we will distract ourselves in some way.
  • Anger is a reaction to not having any control. We may experience overwhelming feelings of frustration pinpoint our anger to a specific source, such as God, a doctor, or an event.
  • Bargaining is an attempt to regain control. During this stage, we try to find a way to escape the pain. For example, a person dying of cancer might adopt a very healthy lifestyle, or a parent whose child is dying might spend lots of time praying.
  • Depression comes in when our bargaining attempts have failed and we realize that we cannot control the loss. Some may fall into a deep depression.
  • Testing is when we experiment with ways to cope with our loss.
  • Acceptance, the final stage, is where we understand the loss. This does not mean that we are “over” it. It means we are able to move forward. A person’s ability to accept a loss and move forward depends on the specific loss, personal psychological factors, the presence of a supportive environment, and more.

Grief in Waves

Years ago, I found a post that describes the way that grief comes in waves. The post is rather long, so I’ve included an excerpt, but I encourage you to read the entire thing if you are experiencing grief or loss. I hope it will provide some small relief and ease the helplessness we experience when faced with a loss.

“…After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection; the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life…

Redditor GSnow in Upvoted:

This comparison resonated deeply. Not only for me, but also in the stories and struggles I have heard from others. I hope this helps you ride out the waves, and to learn to trust that it will be okay, even when you don’t feel like it will.

If you are having a difficult time dealing with your grief, please reach out. Many of our providers are capable and willing to take that journey with you. Additionally, you can check out our self-guided depression course. To view all of our self-guided courses, visit selfhelp.strengthenu.com.

Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT
Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT
Jessica Pladsen is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a registered play therapist.
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Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT
Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT
Jessica Pladsen is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a registered play therapist.
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