“Ignoring grief is like a leak in our roof. We can take care of it now, or we can wait as it seeps through the ceiling, gets into the walls, and warps the floors.”Mark Liebenow – The Good Men Project
During this time of year, it’s difficult to feel free to be your real self if you are grieving the loss of a loved one. There are happy Christmas carols on the radio and over the speakers at every store you visit. There are cards to write and gifts to buy. The birth of Jesus is to be celebrated, but we wonder why our loved one had/has to suffer – and so we distance ourselves from God.
We force ourselves to attend holiday parties, then go home and hide under the blankets. We smile for the Christmas card photo, and to keep up with the social media image. After all, no one wants to see our frowny faces, or have our tears splash out of their newsfeeds.
It’s difficult to find space to grieve when there are no margins in our planner. Some of us may choose to block the inevitable outbursts of sadness with busyness. Others of us may choose to ignore all holiday party requests and live only in the margins, crossing off all our to-dos. Everyone handles grief differently.
I’ve experienced a lot of loss in 2019. I lost my ability to walk mid-2018. As a result, I lost my job. My beloved father passed in August, and my 17-year-old beloved cat is in her final day or two of life.
I have grieved over the passing of my dad for four months, but I’ve yet to get through a first Christmas without him. I knew last Christmas was his final, so I took some video.
Dad loved John Wayne and war movies, so we bought him both. He enjoyed receiving them, as you can see in the video (Just ignore my crazy adult family shooting at small plastic animals atop the staircase banister with their new Nerf guns. That’s a whole other story)!
There are no gifts for dad under the tree this year. Dad will not be sitting in his usual spot in the blue glider rocking chair. He won’t be bringing his little Igloo Cooler loaded with cold Snapple teas and enough eggnog for the entire block. There will be no more hello greetings and no more good-bye kisses.
Lately, I’ve been crying a lot over my recent losses.
- I wish I could get up freely to walk whenever I need, but I can’t. I’m still grieving the loss of my independence.
- I’ve been crying over my kitty, who has been a constant stronghold of comfort and compassion for me for 17 years. She’d know the precise timing to come and cuddle a little extra. She will be put down in the next couple of days.
- I’ve been crying over the loss of direction in my life as far as a job is concerned – I’ve thought about calling myself the Disabled Nutritionist, but somehow that doesn’t seem to work, just like a Voiceless Ventriloquist doesn’t either.
- I’ve been crying over dad not being around to call or visit.
Sometimes, all of these losses make me feel like playing Whac-A-Mole. I just want to whack the stages of grief and not let them surface. It’s Christmastime, and I should be giddy with joy and wish to deck my halls!
Watch this YouTube video of a Whac-A-Mole player. I’m going to analogize Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief with the five moles in this arcade game.
So, you see, the moles pop up randomly. We want nothing more than to whack them upside the head so we don’t have to deal with the emotions they deliver. We want to move on with our lives, but the longer we delay facing our grief, the harder facing our grief becomes.
- The Denial mole is usually the first and most frequent mole to pop up immediately after the loss of a loved one. We hit, smack, and whack the mole, denying we had a significant loss. We push reality back down in the hopes it’s not really true. It’s a way our body and brain initially and instinctively react so that we can get through the initial shock. We can’t yet believe this loss has happened. Whack. We pick up the phone, then must put it down because we forgot our loved one isn’t there to receive the call. Whack. I called my dad several times to hear his voice message during the last days of his life when I knew he couldn’t talk — another whack to the denial mole. I couldn’t handle reality. Whack. Dad is never calling me back. Whack.
- The Anger mole is the easiest to hit with that darn mallet. I. whack. Can’t. whack. Believe. Whack. You are taking. Whack. My cat from me. Whack. This year, too. Whack. Whack. Whack. Whack. Whack. We are angry at God. At the World. At ourselves. At everyone. Whack. Anger is easier to feel than sadness, so we rant to have a release. It’s all a part of the process. Within healthy boundaries, this is okay. If we are self-harming, with say, drinking, or we are hurting someone else, we need to get help from a professional. It is very reasonable to need help getting through grief. No shame. Grief is hard.
- The Bargaining mole says to God, I’ll do this if you do that. Whack. I’ll be a better person if you just save my loved one. Whack. Whack. We try to take responsibility to make things change. But we can’t. Things are the way they are for a reason. But we think we have a better idea. Whack.
- The Depression mole pops up and down. It comes and goes. We don’t want to feel sad, so whack, I don’t have time for this – whack, whack. Or, we put the mallet down and hide. Appropriately, we could invite the depression mole over, face it, tell it our memories, allow ourselves to cry, and let our hand be held, while telling our remembrances of when times were good. We are dealing with true feelings in this stage, and it’s not considered depression. However, if we get stuck in this stage, it can be. When my mom died suddenly in a car crash twelve years ago, it took me four years to begin feeling acceptance. I got stuck in depression. God and counseling helped pull me through.
- The Acceptance mole is where we come to the point that all will be okay. We can go to the arcade and play Whac-A-Mole for fun. We are living our new normal — no need to whack the moles of denial, bargaining, anger, or depression. We can accept and live life again. We miss our loved one, but we can live our life a little more each day. We can learn to have fun again and not feel guilty.
This Christmas may not be your or my favorite Christmas of all time, but even though it may be joyous for others, we can allow our feelings of grief to surface to the top and face them. Allow yourself to go through the corridors of grief. Allow yourself to enter each of these stages at whatever random moments they arise. You don’t have to whack them away until a more appropriate time. Grief has its own timetable.
If you feel grief well up in you, allow it to surface. Your body is directing you. Feel the sadness, recognize the bargaining, let out the anger to a trusted friend. There is healing on the other side. It may be the best Christmas gift you can ever give to yourself – and to others. Go ahead and unwrap it. Healing is waiting on the inside.